Grocery Firm Paid Currie $207,000 Over 5 Years
Friday, July 25, 2008
Maryland Sen. Ulysses Currie was paid more than $207,000 over five years by a grocery store chain, income he did not reveal on state financial disclosure forms, according to a court document unsealed by a federal judge yesterday.
The compensation figures are the first indication of the extent of the retired educator's financial relationship with Shoppers Food and Pharmacy and its parent company, Supervalu. Lanham-based Shoppers has confirmed that Currie (D-Prince George's) worked as a consultant for the company.
The figures are included on an affidavit FBI agents used to justify a search of Currie's home in May and were unsealed by a judge at the request of The Washington Post and other news organizations.
The FBI is investigating whether Currie engaged in mail or wire fraud, using his office to take legislative action or lobby state agencies to benefit the company. Dale P. Kelberman, Currie's attorney, did not return a call late yesterday.
A judge ordered that some portions of the document dealing with Currie's tax returns remain under seal.
The document shows Currie was first paid by the company in February 2003 and received $30,000 from it that year. His compensation rose to more than $54,000 annually by 2007.
Currie, 70, makes $43,500 annually as a member of the General Assembly.
FBI special agent Steven Quisenberry, who specializes in public corruption cases, indicated in the affidavit that Currie has generally received monthly payments from the company. In December 2004, however, he received seven checks, each for more than $3,400. He did not receive another check until July 2005, suggesting, Quisenberry wrote, that Currie might have arranged to receive an advance.
From 2003 to 2006, Currie reported the income on his tax returns as gross receipts related to a consulting business operated out of his home, according to the document. Because of redactions by the judge, it is not possible to tell whether or how he reported the income last year.
Currie has not been charged in the case. To prove that he engaged in mail or wire fraud, federal prosecutors would have to show that Currie used a "scheme or artifice" to deprive his constituents of his honest services, using the mail, phones, e-mail or television.
"It's one of the classic things that prosecutors investigate about a public official," said Andrew D. Levy, a Baltimore-based defense lawyer who teaches criminal law at the University of Maryland.
Interviews and documents released since the investigation became public have showed that Currie repeatedly intervened in matters of interest to Shoppers, including contacting state agencies about traffic lights at its stores and attending a Prince George's County liquor board hearing at which the chain's request for a license was considered.
According to the affidavit, phone calls were made from Currie's home, office or cell lines to current and former Shoppers executives 320 times since 2004. It also said there was "frequent contact" between Currie's phone lines and those of an attorney for the liquor board and the county's chief liquor inspector during 2005 and 2006, when Shoppers was seeking a beer-and-wine license for its College Park store.
The attorney, Edmond B. O'Connell, said this week that he speaks with Currie on "a regular basis" and is not surprised by the phone records. He said, however, that the senator never discussed the grocery with him.
"I never recall him talking to me specifically about the Shoppers case," he said.
Norma L. Lindsay, the chief liquor inspector, also served as chairwoman of the county's Democratic Central Committee during the period outlined in the affidavit. In that role, she might have spoken to Currie. She has not returned calls for comment.
The affidavit also indicates that three calls were placed from Currie's phones in 2005 to Linda Carter, a lawyer who represented Shoppers before the liquor board. One call came within moments of a call from Currie's phone to that of William J. White, who was then the president of Shoppers Food and Pharmacy.
Carter and White declined to comment for the record.