After All That, Sen. Currie Acquitted on All Charges

After All That, Sen. Currie Acquitted on All Charges

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Refreshing to know there’s more news involving other Black politicians these days other than Uncle Herman.

Maryland State Senator and Prince George’s County kingmaker Ulysses Currie was acquitted by a jury of all charges in a federal corruption case this week.  As many of you … probably don’t know, Currie – a longtime and very powerful African American pol based out of affluent PG County – was under investigation for extortion and conspiracy.  That he worked for grocer magnate Shoppers Food Warehouse didn’t help his case for a while as prosecutors accused him of accepting what amounted to $250,000 in bribes from SFW in an effort to lobby for them in Annapolis.  As the case got closer to trial, Currie ended up vacating his post as Chair of the influential state Senate Budget and Taxation Committee. (Note: sound familiar?  Powerful Black politician leaves powerful post overseeing government revenue due to allegations of corruption?)

The problem here is what do state politicians do for a living when their small legislator salary is too small to live in the grossly expensive Washington, D.C.-metropolitan area. Questions for the Maryland General Assembly to sort out. Currie’s not the only one, though.

George Barnette follows it in the Washington Afro American 

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.’

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WBAL-TV in Baltimore reports:

The federal government brought nine charges against Currie. If convicted, he faced up to 20 years on an extortion count, five years on a bribery charge and another five years for conspiracy. He was also charged with making false statements to the FBI.

The jury of five men and seven women heard six weeks of testimony in the case. Closing arguments by five attorneys took nearly two days last week.

After the verdict was read, Currie’s wife let out a sigh of relief and hugged one of Currie’s co-defendants. Collins said Currie stared straight ahead as the verdict was read.

Currie co-defendants William J. White and R. Kevin Small were also found not guilty.

U.S. Attorney Rod Rosenstein said: “The jury’s verdict settles the question of federal criminal liability. The jury’s sole duty is to decide whether the evidence proves a defendant guilty of the charged crime beyond any reasonable doubt, and a substantial proportion of corruption trials result in acquittals. Prosecutors should never complain about the outcome of a fair trial.”

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Jean Marbella in the Baltimore Sun can’t let it go, though:

State Sen. Ulysses Currie may have walked out of Baltimore’s federal courthouse Tuesday a free man, but it was hardly the clean sweep that the jurors’ verdict of not guilty on all counts might indicate.

Jurors said after emerging from the courthouse that there seemed to be a conflict of interest or unethical behavior stemming from Currie’s dual roles as Shoppers Food Warehouse‘s man inAnnapolis at the same time that he chaired the Senate’s powerful Budget and Taxation Committee. But they stopped short of convicting him of a federal crime.

And that, ladies and gentlemen of the jury of public opinion, is what we’re left with after a trial in which a public official was paid to do a private company’s bidding and yet is found not guilty of bribery, conspiracy and extortion charges.

These are very serious charges, but also very hard to prove or even get to trial.

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More from Baltimore Sun‘s editorial page, seething over the not guilty verdict:

What Mr. Currie did, and so far has completely gotten away with, is to use his public power to further his private interests. The Prince George’s County Democrat, who until recently chaired the Budget and Taxation Committee, entered into a consulting contract with the grocery chain Shoppers Food Warehouse and proceeded to advocate on its behalf with various government agencies. He set up meetings through his Senateoffice and wrote memos about Shoppers’ concerns on his state letterhead, but he never disclosed the fact that he was on the company’s payroll, either to his colleagues or in his annual ethics filings.

If that doesn’t give the people of Maryland enough of a sour feeling about our state government, the treatment of Mr. Currie by his colleagues surely should. During the last several weeks, a who’s who of Maryland politics went to the federal courthouse in Baltimore to testify on Mr. Currie’s behalf. Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown testified that Mr. Currie was “a man of strong integrity.” Rep. Steny Hoyer, the No. 2 Democrat in the House of Representatives, said he was “a decent, honest person.” State Sen. Brian E. Frosh and Rep. Elijah Cummings both testified to his good character. Even former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, stuck up for him.

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