The rough year facing African-American Democrats nationally continued locally as Maryland Sen. Ulysses Currie, D-Dist 25, was indicted. Curry faces 18 charges in connection to what investigators say was a six-year conspiracy between him and local grocery store chain, Shoppers Food Warehouse (SFW). The indictment claims Currie used his position to advance the company’s interests.

“Government officials cross a bright line when they accept payments in return for using the authority of their office, whether they take cash in envelopes or checks labeled as consulting payments,” said U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein in a statement. “When businesses can obtain valuable government benefits by putting a senator on the payroll, it diminishes public confidence and disadvantages companies that refuse to go along with the pay-to-play approach.”

It is alleged that in 2002, as chair of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, the 73-year-old Currie asked to be placed on the payroll of SFW and used his position to benefit the corporation. The indictment claims that from then until 2008, Currie received over $245,000 in bribes from SFW.

Currie joins a host of other prominent local and national African-American Democratic legislators finding themselves in legal trouble this year.

Nationally, longtime U.S. Reps. Maxine Waters, Calif., and Charles Rangel, N.Y., are facing congressional ethics trials on alleged financial improprieties. They’ve been charged with 13 counts each.

N.Y. Gov. David Paterson gave up a re-election bid amid allegations that he improperly interfered with the investigation of one of his top aides, David W. Johnson, over domestic violence charges.

Locally, Prince George’s County Executive Jack Johnson along with Councilmembers Camille Exum, Dist. 7; Tony Knotts, Dist. 8; Ingrid Turner, Dist. 4; and Marilynn Bland, Dist. 9, are all under investigation for possible wrongdoing involving American Hospitality Management, run by developer Arun Luthra.

According to court documents, members of the council attempt to extort money from the corporation to get projects approved.

The complaint specifically singles out Knotts for walking into American Hospitality Management and telling an employee that if Luthra procured 10 “Diamond” members, which would amount to $40,000, for a political event in September 2009 then Knotts would remove any hurdles in the way of American Hospitality Management projects.

The issue of impropriety has become so prevalent in the county that it has some candidates for office bragging that they’ve never been investigated for any wrongdoing.

“I’m just making a statement of fact and people can make any assessment they want,” said Councilman Samuel Dean, Dist. 6, who’s running for Prince George‘s County Executive. “I have a very stellar record that I’m proud of as a County Council member.”

While peers may be running in the opposite direction of some of the politicians accused of improprieties, it seems as though Currie’s 40 years in the legislature have helped garner some support from his colleagues.

“I am saddened that the investigation of Senator Currie has reached this point.” said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., Dist. 27. “Senator Currie has confronted adversity throughout his life, and I am confident he will be exonerated.”

 

George Barnette

Special to the AFRO