U.S. House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) called state Sen. Ulysses Currie a “decent, honest person of integrity” during a brief appearance as a defense witness Tuesday in Currie’s trial on bribery charges.
Hoyer, who said he has known Currie (D-Prince George’s) for “some 30 years,” was not asked by either side about the facts of the case, in which Currie is accused of doing government favors for a grocery chain.
Instead, he served as a character witness, calling Currie a friend, someone with “an extraordinary ability to work with people” and “a person who dealt with me straight.” Hoyer is among several high-profile character witnesses the defense is expected to call in coming days.
Echoing testimony of earlier witnesses, Hoyer said Currie is not known to be well-organized and often relies on others in areas where he thinks they have greater expertise.
“He did not pay attention to details, but he did pay attention to people,” Hoyer told jurors in the case, now in its fourth week.
Hoyer, who served as president of the Maryland Senate before joining Congress in 1981, said he represented the same district as a state senator that Currie does now.
Hoyer said he also came to know Currie in other capacities besides their overlapping political careers. Hoyer’s late wife, Judith P. Hoyer, and Currie served as educators together in the Prince George’s County schools. And the Currie family bought its home from the Hoyers.
The courtroom in U.S. District Court in Baltimore was fuller than usual for Hoyer’s testimony, which began with Joseph L. Evans, a lawyer for Currie, asking Hoyer if he is employed.
“I am,” Hoyer replied. “I’m a member of the United States Congress.”
Kathleen O. Gavin, an assistant U.S. attorney, objected at several points as Hoyer showered praise on Currie. Her cross-examination was brief.
Jurors also heard Tuesday from a tax preparer for Currie. Currie reported consulting income on his federal tax returns, but did not report his relationship with Shoppers Food Warehouse on state ethics forms for five years. During the period, he was paid $245,000.
Prosecutors allege the consulting arrangement was a guise for Currie to do favors for the chain, including intervening on behalf of Shoppers with state officials in development deals, traffic light requests and other projects. Two grocery store executives are also on trial.
In court Tuesday, it was disclosed that Currie had incurred $44,000 in legal expenses during 2008, the year the FBI raided his home and the federal investigation of his relationship with Shoppers became public.
In a hearing outside the jury’s presence, a urologist for Currie also testified that Currie seemed “fuzzy” in 2008 while under his treatment for an aggressive form of prostate cancer. Part of Currie’s treatment included a drug that can make patients forgetful, the doctor said. He is expected to appear before the jury next week.