The jury in the Ulysses Currie corruption trial found the longtime state senator not guilty on extortion and conspiracy charges.

The verdict ends a lengthy investigation stretching back nearly a decade in which prosecutors accused Currie of being paid close to $250,000 to use his influence to promote the interests of Shoppers Food Warehouse (SFW), for whom he was working part-time.

Currie’s defense had maintained from the beginning that he never hid his employment with SFW, including filing tax records and reporting that income. Currie’s attorney, Joseph L. Evans said because state senators are allowed to have part-time jobs, the real issue was where his role as a senator ended and his role as an employee of SFW began. During the course of the trial, Evans had supported his request that the court dismiss the charges against Currie by explaining why he believed Currie had been a victim of ambiguous state laws.

“The motion to dismiss relates to whether, in this very specific context, the Maryland bribery statute that is incorporated into the federal charge is void for vagueness,” Evans said in an e-mail. “In short, that provision requires that the government prove that Senator Currie was paid to influence his ‘official duties.’

“There is no set of responsibilities that are listed as his official duties.”

However, not everyone agreed with Currie’s attorney.

Neil Pedersen, retired head of the State Highway Administration testified that he had no idea of Currie’s relationship with SFW when Currie worked to have traffic lights installed at SFW locations in Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties in 2004 and 2005.

In an email the prosecution entered as evidence, Pedersen expressed concern to his colleagues about Currie’s persistence on the issue.

“Senator Currie asks me every time he sees me whether we have resolved the Reisterstown Road Shoppers Food Warehouse issue,” one of Pedersen’s emails said.

Pedersen said he thought Currie had taken interest because at the time he was chairman of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee.

Things even took an interesting turn when jurors sent a note to U.S. District Court Judge Richard D. Bennett on Nov. 7 asking about the timeline on one of the conspiracy charges.

“If we believe the conspiracy was not in effect in Dec. 2002 (or even in Jan. 2003), but might have started at a later date, can we find any of the defendants guilty on count one?” the jury asked.

Bennett affirmed that notion.

Currie, was able to counter prosecutor’s claims with a who’s who of character witnesses including U.S. Rep. Steny Hoyer, D.-Dist. 5, Rep. Elijah Cummings, D.-Dist. 7, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown and former Gov. Robert Ehrlich all testified on behalf of Currie praising him for being a gentleman, friend and a man of integrity.

Currie’s co-defendants, William White and R. Kevin Small, two former high ranking officials with SFW, were also acquitted on all charges.


George Barnette

Special to the AFRO