Currie got over $200,000

Papers show 5 years of payments from Shoppers

July 25, 2008|By Gadi Dechter and Laura Smitherman | Gadi Dechter and Laura Smitherman,Sun reporters

State Sen. Ulysses Currie, whose work for Shoppers Food Warehouse is being investigated by the FBI's public corruption squad, was paid more than $200,000 by the regional grocery chain over five years, according to documents unsealed yesterday.

Federal authorities are looking at whether the Lanham-based supermarket company hired the leading Prince George's County Democrat to use the prestige of his office to secure favorable legislation and actions by state agencies, documents show.

According to portions of a search warrant affidavit unsealed at the request of The Sun and other media organizations, Currie was paid about $207,000 between 2003 and 2007. According to the affidavit, he reported the income to the Internal Revenue Service through at least 2006. Some portions of the document relating to taxes are redacted.

Currie, chairman of the Senate's powerful budget committee, never disclosed his employment by Shoppers on General Assembly ethics forms, but the fact that he reported the income to the IRS works in his favor, several white-collar defense attorneys said yesterday.

"Right away, he's in very good shape from a white-collar perspective," said Andrew D. Levy, a Baltimore defense attorney who specializes in state and federal litigation. "As we know from Al Capone ... one of the ways people get in trouble is that even if you can't prove the underlying offense, you show they didn't pay their taxes."

Levy said Currie's Shoppers' income, averaging $40,000 a year, did not strike him as "all that much." There is "nothing inherently obscene about that amount," Levy added, "but is it enough to interest prosecutors? Sure."

Levy said jurors would not likely begrudge a part-time politician other employment. Currie makes $43,500 as a senator.

Byron L. Warnken, a University of Baltimore criminal law professor, said jurors' reaction to his outside employment would likely depend on the nature of Currie's work for Shoppers.

"In light of the power he has, the immediate question that arises is, 'Gee, was he receiving this for more than just consulting services?' " Warnken said. "Was it a bribe? Was there some other quid pro quo going on? I don't know how much work he did."

Some details of Currie's work for the chain have come to light since federal investigators conducted simultaneous raids on his home and on Shoppers' headquarters in May.

Currie has intervened on Shoppers' behalf several times in recent years when the grocery chain had business dealings with the state, according to documents released by various agencies.

The senator arranged meetings and contacted city and state officials at critical junctures when Shoppers was seeking public financing and other concessions as part of the multimillion-dollar redevelopment of Mondawmin Mall in West Baltimore. He also interceded on the company's behalf on routine transportation projects such as traffic signals and road improvements near Shoppers stores.

State officials who met with Currie to discuss Shoppers business said they were not aware of his employment.

The senator also voted on legislation favorable to the company. In 2005 he voted in favor of a bill authorizing the transfer of a liquor license from one supermarket to another. According to the FBI affidavit, he was in frequent contact with Shoppers representatives and the county's chief liquor inspector at a time when local approval of the transfer had drawn fierce opposition.

Using electronic phone records, FBI agents have also identified hundreds of phone calls Currie made to company officials, often when the company was seeking to influence public officials on legislation and business transactions.

Currie was paid by both Lanham-based Shoppers and its parent company, Supervalu Inc. of Minnesota, according to the affidavit. A Supervalu spokeswoman, Haley M. Meyer, declined to comment last night.

The income information came to light as part of an agreement between Currie's lawyer, Dale Kelberman, and attorneys representing news organizations.

Recent public corruption convictions in Maryland have involved similar sums of money.

This week, former Prince George's County schools Superintendent Andre J. Hornsby was found guilty of six federal counts of corruption. In that case, Hornsby had been accused of splitting a $20,000 commission with his live-in lover after they had negotiated a $1 million contract for her company with the school system. Another consultant had also agreed to pay Hornsby $145,000 in kickbacks, prosecutors said.

In a separate case, former state Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell pleaded guilty to a federal bribery charge last year. The senator helped steer publicly funded contracts to Poole and Kent, a Baltimore construction company, and he and his wife received thousands of dollars in building materials for their home and a $200,000 salary for Mary Patricia Bromwell's no-show job with the contractor.

gadi.dechter@baltsun.com

laura.smitherman@baltsun.com

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