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Judge's Ruling Goes Against Md. Lobbyist

Bereano Fighting Ethics Commission

By David A. Fahrenthold and Eric Rich
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, December 31, 2004; Page B04

A prominent lobbyist in Annapolis, who resurrected his career after a fraud conviction in 1994, has lost a round in a new court battle over an alleged ethics violation.

Bruce C. Bereano faces a 10-month suspension of his lobbying license after a Howard County Circuit Court judge upheld a ruling against him by the Maryland State Ethics Commission.

Bruce C. Bereano could lose his license for 10 months.

Bereano said yesterday that he will appeal the ruling. He will retain his license in the meantime.

He contended that his punishment was improper because he was charged with doing something before a law was enacted to ban it. "Very respectfully, I think it's all wrong," Bereano said of the court ruling.

The case against Bereano hinges on a relatively obscure new rule that bars lobbyists from taking a percentage of state contracts they win for clients. But it is a major test for the Ethics Commission, whose powers were increased in 2001 during a legislative crackdown on highly paid and influential lobbyists in Annapolis.

Based on the new law, the commission filed ethics cases against two of the lobbyists often cited during debate over the legislation: Bereano and Gerard E. Evans, who also had been convicted of fraud.

In Evans's case, the commission lost. A court ruled this summer that it was wrong to bar him from lobbying based on his conviction, because the rule being applied did not exist when he was found guilty.

Bereano is making a similar argument.

Bereano has lobbied Maryland lawmakers for 25 years and was one of the best-known and highest-paid players in Annapolis before he was convicted in connection with illegal campaign contributions. He was sentenced to 10 months of work release and home detention.

Afterward, Bereano returned to a prominent role in Annapolis. Records show his clients in the past year ranged from Safeway to the Maryland Coalition of Professional Tattooists and Body Piercers.

The current case against Bereano is based on a fee agreement he had with a contractor called Mercer Ventures. He was to receive a percentage of contracts he helped the firm obtain. When the contract was signed, in September 2001, such agreements weren't illegal. Two months later, they were. The commission contends that Bereano continued to work under the contract for about half a year before altering it.

"He continued to perform under that letter of agreement," with the illegal clause, said Suzanne Fox, the commission's executive director. Fox said the case against Bereano should be a sign that the commission "will not shrink from enforcing the law as it is written."

Bereano's case could be heard next by the state Court of Special Appeals or by the state's highest court, the Court of Appeals. If he loses on appeal, he faces the license suspension and a $5,000 fine.

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