Ulysses Currie’s trial on federal bribery charges began in Baltimore last week where the longtime state senator fights allegations that he used his political influence while a consultant for Shopper’s Food Warehouse (SFW), to advance the grocer’s interests.

Neil Pedersen, retired head of the State Highway administration testified Sept. 28 that he had no idea of Currie’s relationship with SFW as Currie pushed to have traffic lights installed at SFW locations in Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties in 2004 and 2005.

The prosecution produced emails Pedersen wrote to colleagues describing 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.

At the time, Currie was chairman of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee. Pedersen said he thought Currie’s pestering was related to something important to the state, not because Currie was employed by SFW.

Currie’s legal team is disputing claims that Currie was working secretly for SFW and said Currie made it clear he was working for SFW and members in the legislature knew it.

“To the contrary, Senator Currie performed legitimate and highly visible work for Shopper’s, and his work for Shopper’s was disclosed to members of the legislature as well as those in the business and civic community,” Dale Kelberman, Currie’s former lawyer, told the AFRO. “He assisted Shoppers with significant community relations issues, among other things, all of which are well documented.”

Currie’s current attorney, Joseph L. Evans, sought, unsuccessfully, to have the case dismissed on the basis that there Currie’s employment with SFW was common knowledge.

According to Evans, since it’s legal for state legislators to have part-time employment, it’s not fair to punish Currie because the lines were blurred lines. Evans says it’s hard for anyone to decipher where Currie’s official duties as senator ended and his employment of SFW began.

“The motion to dismiss that is presently pending 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.”

Currie’s indictment led a run on legal trouble involving Prince George’s officials. In November, former Prince George’s County Executive Jack Johnson and his wife, Leslie Johnson, were arrested on federal bribery, extortion, witness tampering and evidence tampering charges.

Last month Del. Tiffany Alston and former Capitol Heights Mayor Darrell Miller were charged with using campaign funds for personal use.

 

George Barnette

Special to the AFRO