In closing arguments, Currie attorney blasts prosecution evidence

November 3, 2011

An attorney for Maryland Sen. Ulysses Currie said Thursday that the corruption case against the Prince George’s County Democrat had been built on selective and misleading evidence, and he urged jurors to acquit his client.

“Ulysses Currie is not some trophy to be used to enhance the reputation of federal prosecutors,” Joseph L. Evans, an assistant federal public defender, said a few hours before the case went to the jury Thursday afternoon. “He did not do what he is accused of doing.”

Prosecutors have accused Currie of conspiring with two grocery chain executives to use his office to do favors for Shoppers Food Warehouse over a period of more than five years. Among the charges that Currie faces are bribery and extortion.

In her closing argument, Kathleen O. Gavin, an assistant U.S. attorney, derisively referred to Currie as “the senator from Shoppers.”

Gavin said that defense attorneys “threw up a lot of mud and smoke and dust” but that the case was simple at its core.

“They were buying a senator,” she said of the grocery executives. “That’s what they were doing.”

During the six-week trial in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, the defense contended that the payments to Currie — which totaled more than $245,000 — were made in exchange for legitimate consulting work that was the subject of a contract reviewed by others in the grocery chain and its parent company.

Currie’s assistance to Shoppers included help with stoplight requests and the transfer of a liquor license, and he also met with high-ranking state officials about development deals.

At times in his argument, Evans mocked the prosecution case, including its contention that Currie, the former chairman of the state Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, and William J. White, the now-retired former president of Shoppers, knowingly entered into a criminal “conspiracy” in late 2002 or early 2003 — when they barely knew each other and many of the projects in question had not materialized.

Another grocery store executive is alleged to have become part of the conspiracy several months later.

“You don’t just stumble into this,” Evans said, noting that both Currie and White were in the “twilight” of their careers at the time.

It seems implausible, Evans said, to suggest that Currie and White would deliberately start a bribery scheme “like it’s some sort of bizarre bucket list. . . . This isn’t how people forge criminal alliances.”

Currie reported consulting income on his federal tax returns but did not disclose his relationship with Shoppers on state ethics forms. Both sides sought to make the most of that situation in arguments Thursday.

Evans pointed to testimony elicited by prosecutors during the trial that Currie did not attach to his tax returns a form detailing his compensation from Shoppers. On cross-examination, the prosecution witness acknowledged that attaching the form was not required and that prosecutors had been told that.

On Thursday, Evans said such misleading tactics were “emblematic of what’s going on here.”

Gavin dwelt on Currie’s lack of disclosure on ethics forms, something for which his wife took responsibility in testimony last week.

“This was no accident,” Gavin said. “This was intentionally concealing from the public his connection to Shoppers.”

Gavin also tried to undermine what she characterized as a “parade” of fellow politicians who testified as character witnesses for Currie, praising his honesty and integrity.

“Those character witnesses, I would submit to you, don’t know what you know,” Gavin told the jury.

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