Ex-Senator Felt Pressure From Currie, Husband Says

FBI agents searched the home of Sen. Currie in May.
FBI agents searched the home of Sen. Currie in May. (Chris Gardner - AP)
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By Rosalind S. Helderman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 12, 2008

A former Maryland lawmaker felt "pressured" by Sen. Ulysses Currie to submit legislation that helped a grocery chain whose ties to Currie are now the subject of a federal investigation obtain a liquor license for one of its stores, the former lawmaker's widower said yesterday.

Travis Britt said his wife, Sen. Gwendolyn T. Britt (D-Prince George's), who died in January, talked to him in 2005 about what she said was Currie's behind-the-scenes role in the legislation. The chain, Shoppers Food and Pharmacy, has said it employed Currie, a Prince George's County Democrat, as a consultant.

"When she came home in the evening, she would talk about some of the things she had done during the day," he said. "She would say Senator Currie was putting pressure on her by lobbying her" on the liquor license issue.

On the final day of the legislative session in 2005, Britt proposed attaching to an unrelated bill an amendment that gave the county liquor board the ability to transfer a license from a Shoppers store in Takoma Park to a store in College Park. The transfer, which was approved, was opposed by some College Park residents.

Currie referred questions yesterday to his attorney, Dale Kelberman. The attorney, who has not publicly commented on the case, directed a reporter to another former lawmaker, John A. Giannetti Jr.

Giannetti, a Democrat whose Prince George's district included the College Park store, said he worked on the transfer with Britt and had no reason to believe she was pressured.

The federal investigation became public May 29 when FBI agents searched Currie's home and the corporate offices of the grocery chain. E-mails and other state records show that Currie, chairman of the budget and taxation committee, repeatedly intervened in matters of importance to Shoppers, including traffic signal installation and road improvements.

In 2005, Currie voted to approve the bill that included the liquor license amendment, as did every other senator, but Travis Britt's account has Currie playing a larger role than previously known.

Giannetti said yesterday that he recalled Currie telling him in 2004 that he worked for Shoppers. The chain has declined to say when Currie became a consultant. Giannetti's account is the first public suggestion that the relationship extended for several years.

Giannetti, who left the Senate in 2006, said he recalled the conversation with Currie taking place soon after a meeting that both had attended to discuss the grocery chain's desire to install a traffic signal outside a store in Laurel. Currie left the room as the meeting began, Giannetti said. Later, Giannetti asked Currie about his departure, and Currie told him about the relationship, Giannetti said.

"He certainly wasn't hiding it from me," Giannetti said. The former lawmaker said FBI agents plan to meet with him next week to talk about the Currie investigation.

On the liquor license issue, Giannetti said he did not recall Currie as the "driving force" behind the legislation. Giannetti said that he was willing to propose the legislation and that he had said as much to Currie and Britt.

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