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Feds Indict Powerful Maryland State Lawmaker Ulysses Currie on Bribery Charges

Sen. Ulysses Currie/senate photo

Sen. Ulysses Currie/senate photo

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

WASHINGTON — Powerful Maryland state Sen. Ulysses S. Currie, 73, finds himself in big trouble.

The feds in Baltimore  on Wednesday indicted him for allegedly taking more than $245,000 in bribes to use his office to help a grocery chain, Shoppers Food and Pharmacy. Two former Shoppers Food officials were also indicted. (read indictment)

Additionally, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Baltimore said it filed a separate criminal information against Shoppers Food Warehouse Corp. The company has agreed to enter into a deferred prosecution agreement, which calls for it to pay a $2.5 million penalty.

The indictment alleges that shortly after Currie became chair of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee in 2002, he asked to be placed on the payroll of Shoppers Food Warehouse Corporation to use his elected position to help the grocery chain.

Among the things Currie,a Democrat representing the suburban Prince George’s County,  did to assist the chain was to help it sell liquor at a store and save on the construction of another store, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.

The indictment alleges that Currie received payments of $3,000 per month beginning in February 2003, raised to $3,416.67 in July 2004, to $3,800 in June 2007, and ultimately to $7,600 per month in December 2007, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.

“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,” U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein said 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.”

A press release issued by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Baltimore stated that Curries misdeeds included:

* Contacted the Administrator of the State Highway Administration repeatedly in 2003 and 2004, including by a letter on official letterhead of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, concerning the supermarket chain’s request for traffic signals at the site of a store on Route 140 in Baltimore County and at the site of a store on Route 198 in Laurel, Maryland;

* Convened meetings in his Senate office, which White and Small attended, with the Secretary of the Maryland Department of Transportation on December 23, 2003, and with the Secretary of the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development on January 14, 2004, in an effort to secure $2 million in public funds for a project at Mondawmin Mall in Baltimore, to reduce his employer’s costs in opening a supermarket;

* Met with the Chairman of the Prince George’s County Liquor Board in 2004, along with Small, regarding the transfer of a liquor license from one of the supermarket chain’s stores to another, arranged for another senator to introduce legislation necessary to accomplish the transfer, then voted on legislation authorizing the transfer on April 8, 2005, and faxed a copy of the bill from his Senate office to Small on the day the Governor signed it into law;

* Contacted the Maryland Energy Administration in December 2004 to seek a delay in the implementation of energy efficiency standards for chillers and commercial refrigeration units under the Maryland Energy Efficiency Standards Act, at the request of Small, in order to reduce costs to the supermarket chain;

* Convinced government officials in 2006 and 2007 to give up the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission’s right to purchase land in Chillum owned by the WMATA, so that a portion of the property could be acquired, without competitive bidding, and used to expand one of his employer’s existing supermarkets;

* Convened meetings in his Senate office in 2006 and in 2007 with high-ranking state officials in an effort to obtain a grant of $2 to $3 million for the developer of Ritchie Station Marketplace for the cost of road improvements at the Ritchie-Marlboro interchange, so that the costs would not be passed on to the supermarket chain, which was a prospective tenant.

The indictment alleges that Chairman Currie signed written agreements falsely representing that Currie would assist “in minority recruitment and outreach, community relations and public affairs,” and “to work with [corporate] executives to provide visibility and community leadership opportunities,” when, in fact, the defendants had agreed that the company would pay Currie to take official acts and to use his official position and influence in ways that would benefit the business and financial interests of White, Small, and the company.

The indictment further alleges that Currie, White, and Small used e-mail and facsimile to carry out the bribery of Chairman Currie; that from 2002 to 2008, Chairman Currie, assisted by White and Small, extorted $245,816.79 from the company to obtain his assistance in his official capacity and during the same time frame used the mail and e-mail to deprive the citizens of Maryland and the State of Maryland of their right to the honest services of Chairman Currie. The indictment also alleges that White and Currie made false statements to FBI agents during the investigation. The indictment seeks forfeiture of $245,816 allegedly paid to Chairman Currie during the scheme.

If convicted, Currie, White and Small face a maximum sentence of five years in prison for the conspiracy; a maximum of five years in prison for each count of bribery; and 20 years in prison for each of two counts of mail and six counts of wire fraud. Currie faces a maximum of 20 years in prison for extortion; Currie and White face a maximum sentence of five years in prison for making a false statement. No court appearance has been scheduled for the defendants.

An indictment or criminal information is not a finding of guilt. An individual or corporation charged by indictment or criminal information is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty at some later criminal proceedings.

United States Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein commended the FBI for its investigation in this case and thanked Assistant United States Attorneys Kathleen O. Gavin and Mark W. Crooks, who are prosecuting the case.

Read Currie Indictment


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