Currie’s wife says she filled out forms,takes responsibility for omissions

October 28, 2011

The wife of Maryland Sen. Ulysses Currie testified Thursday that she assumed responsibility for filling out her husband’s financial disclosure forms and that she blamed herself for not including his consulting work for a grocery chain.

Currie’s failure to disclose his relationship with Shoppers Food Warehouse is central to the contention of prosecutors that the Prince George’s County Democrat engaged in a bribery and extortion scheme for more than five years, using his office to do favors for the chain.

“I feel that in a way I have failed him,” Shirley A. Gravely-Currie told the jury in U.S. District Court in Baltimore. “I feel like if I had been a little more diligent, we wouldn’t be where we are right now.”

The testimony of Currie’s wife came at the end of the fifth week of the senator’s trial. The case is expected to go to the jury next week.

Jurors also heard Thursday from a final character witness for Currie: Freeman Hrabowski, long-serving president of the University of Maryland Baltimore County.

Hrabowski testified that he and Currie had forged a friendship over the years, based in part on their shared commitment to improving educational opportunities for disadvantaged children.

“I have the highest regard for this man’s character,” Hrabowski said.

Gravely-Currie, a practicing minister, said her role filling out Currie’s disclosure forms was consistent with their division of labor at home. She handles everything inside, including paying bills and managing the family’s finances. He handles everything outside, such as cutting the grass.

The arrangement is due in part to the fact that Currie “doesn’t pay attention to details, and he’s not very organized,” Gravely-Currie said.

She testified that since Currie’s election to the General Assembly in 1986, she has filled out his annual disclosure forms for all but two years. The senator did not make a practice of reviewing her work, she said, because “he trusted me.”

Gravely-Currie said she took the forms seriously but also testified that “I was very busy, and this was kind of a chore.”

Besides employment, the disclosure forms require information on debts, property holdings, board memberships and other things. They are open to inspection and are intended to make the public aware of potential conflicts of interest a lawmaker might have.

Gravely-Currie said she made a practice of mostly copying entries from the prior year and did not always include updated information. She also seemed to misunderstand a requirement that all employers of a legislator and spouse should be reported, not just those that do business with the state.

Over the years, consulting work Currie briefly performed for two other companies was not included on his disclosure forms either, nor was the fact that Gravely-Currie was employed.

Under questioning by one of Currie’s attorneys, Lucius T. Outlaw III, Gravely-Currie said her mistakes were not intentional and that she never tried to hide anything. She said her husband never directed her to omit any information.

During cross-examination, Leo J. Wise, an assistant U.S. attorney, said the accuracy of the disclosure forms was ultimately the senator’s responsibility.

Gravely-Currie acknowledged that is the case but said, “I felt because I do all the paperwork at the house, that this was one of my jobs.”

She said she had vowed when Currie got into politics to do all she could to keep him out of trouble and from getting a big head.

Outlaw also used Gravely-Currie’s time on the stand to humanize Currie, who is unlikely to testify before the defense rests next week.

Gravely-Currie, who works at the Howard University School of Divinity, recalled meeting Currie decades ago in Bible study.

“Every time I looked up from Bible, Brother Currie was looking at me,” she said. They have been married for “26 blissful years,” she said.

Gravely-Currie, who at one point referred to her husband as “my honey-do,” said the couple lives a modest lifestyle and has not been on vacation in 20 years.

She also spoke of her battle with breast cancer and of Currie’s with prostate cancer.

Prosecutors contend that Currie used his Senate office to do a variety of favors for Shoppers, including advocating with state officials for stop light requests and development deals.

Currie’s lawyers have acknowledged an “undisclosed conflict of interest” but contend Currie is not guilty of the crimes with which he is charged. They also have stressed that Currie reported his consulting income on his federal tax returns.

The trial will not reconvene until Monday, and Judge Richard D. Bennett said Currie and two former Shoppers executives, who also are on trial, should take the long weekend to make a final decision about whether they will testify in their own defense.

Bennett advised the jury that they are likely to get the case Wednesday, after closing arguments.

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