By Rosalind S. Helderman, John Wagner and Ovetta Wiggins
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, May 30, 2008; B01
FBI agents raided the Prince George's County home of one of Maryland's most powerful senators yesterday, as well as the Lanham headquarters of the grocery company that operates Shoppers Food Warehouse.
Agents took file folders from the District Heights residence of Sen. Ulysses Currie (D-Prince George's), who has served as chairman of the senate's Budget and Taxation Committee since 2002. They also took boxes from the small office building that houses the Shoppers Food and Pharmacy headquarters, where a spokeswoman confirmed that Currie has served as an "outside consultant."
Haley M. Meyer, a spokeswoman for Supervalu Inc., the grocery chain's parent, said the FBI told the company that the investigation relates to Currie. The raid yesterday was the first indication that federal agents are conducting an investigation that involves the long-serving senator. Currie, 70, a retired educator who was elected to the Senate in 1994 after serving eight years in the House of Delegates, has been among those mentioned as a potential successor to the senate president.
In a brief interview with The Washington Post, Currie confirmed that agents had "stopped by" his home but said he had "no idea" what they were investigating. He said he has been given no indication by federal agents that he was the target of an investigation.
Arriving home in the evening, Currie told reporters that he left the house at 6:30 a.m. yesterday to find FBI agents waiting outside with a search warrant. Currie said he left the agents at his home and drove to Baltimore, where he conferred with his attorney. He referred questions to the attorney, including all questions about his relationship with Shoppers. "The lawyer said I should limit my discussion with the media, with my wife, with my children, with my dog," he said.
His attorney, Dale Kelberman, declined comment.
Currie did not report receiving income from Shoppers in any of his three most recent filings with the State Ethics Commission nor has he ever filed forms with the state indicating that he might face a conflict of interest with legislation dealing with the grocery chain. Under state ethics law, legislators are required to report sources of outside income, including income from consulting activities, and are expected to report even the appearance of a conflict of interest on pending legislation.
Meyer, the spokeswoman for Supervalu, said in response to a question about Currie's employment by the company that he was an "outside consultant." She said his responsibilities included "various consulting operations."
Asked later to confirm that he was paid, she said she could provide no additional information. She would not say how long Currie has been a consultant for the company nor what issues he has worked on.
The instructions for the State Ethics Commission financial disclosure, which lawmakers must file yearly, lists income earned from "individual consulting activities" as an example of compensation that should be disclosed.
Currie did not report work with Shoppers in 2007 or the preceding two years, according to forms examined by The Post yesterday.
Meyer said in a statement that the grocery store chain, which operates 2,500 stores nationally and 64 in the Washington and Baltimore region, was first contacted by the FBI yesterday morning.
"The FBI has told us that they are working on an investigation related to one of our service providers," her statement said. "We are cooperating fully with the FBI and cannot provide additional detail at this time."
FBI agents were seen leaving Currie's home and the corporate offices with file folders and a box. Special Agent Rich Wolf, an FBI spokesman, declined to comment, saying, "It's an ongoing investigation."
In April 2005, Currie voted in favor of a bill that included a provision to facilitate the transfer of a liquor license from a Shoppers Food Warehouse in Takoma Park to another Shoppers location in College Park. The amendment authorizing the transfer was sponsored by his then-colleague, the late Sen. Gwendolyn Britt, and was also advocated by then-Sen. John Giannetti (D-Prince George's), who represented the area around the University of Maryland College Park. The bill passed the Senate 46 to 0. The transfer provoked strong opposition from the College Park City Council and others in the community.
Under Maryland ethics law, legislators are required to recuse themselves from votes on issues on which they have a direct conflict of interest. If a lawmaker believes he has only the appearance of a conflict and believes he can act impartially, the lawmaker is supposed to file a "disclaimer statement" with the Ethics Commission.
Currie has not filed a disclaimer statement since 1998, according to files maintained by the General Assembly's ethics counsel. That filing was specific to a bill that would have benefited the pensions of teachers.
According to three sources, Currie later attended the liquor board meeting where local commissioners used the new legislation to approve the Shoppers' license transfer. They asked to remain anonymous because of the ongoing investigation.
An aide to Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D) said that Miller, who represents part of Prince George's County, had no comment on the investigation.
Currie, the son of a North Carolina sharecropper, is considered a loyal soldier to Miller and has steered considerable spending to his district.
Staff writer Ruben Castaneda contributed to this report.