At Ulysses Currie’s bribery trial, Steny Hoyer vouches for Md. state senator’s integrity

October 18, 2011

U.S. House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) called state Sen. Ulysses Currie a “decent, honest person of integrity” during an 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 Shoppers Food Warehouse, a grocery chain.

Instead, he told jurors about his relationship with Currie, whom he called a friend, someone with “an extraordinary ability to work with people” and “a person who dealt with me straight.”

Hoyer is among a parade of character witness — including a number of high-profile politicians — expected to be called in coming days as part of a broader defense case. Others put on the stand Tuesday included Robert Slade, a Prince George’s minister, who said he does not doubt Currie’s integrity “one bit” based on their relationship of three decades.

Hoyer, echoing the testimony of some other witnesses, said Currie is not known to be well-organized and often relies on others in situations in which 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, an attorney 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. During her brief cross-examination, she got Hoyer to agree that he and Currie were “political allies” and that Currie was a “competent legislator.”

Jurors also heard Tuesday from Thomas J. Murphy, 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.

Currie’s attorneys have conceded that he had an “undisclosed conflict of interest” but contend that his actions were not criminal.

Prosecutors allege that 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, and both on Tuesday presented witnesses who had favorable things to say about their reputations.

In court, it was also 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 Tuesday outside the jury’s presence, a urologist for Currie, Michael J. Naslund, 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.

John Wagner has covered Maryland government and politics for The Post since 2004.
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