Senator Talked of Grocery With State Cabinet Officials

By Rosalind S. Helderman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 26, 2008

An influential Maryland senator whose consulting work for a grocery store chain is under federal investigation met with three cabinet-level secretaries in recent years to discuss matters of interest to the company.

Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development Secretary David W. Edgerley said yesterday that Sen. Ulysses Currie met with him and an executive from Lanham-based Shoppers Food and Pharmacy in Currie's Senate office May 5 -- just weeks before the FBI raided Currie's District Heights home -- to discuss state financial incentives that might be available to the company.

Currie also met with Edgerley's predecessor in 2004 and with the secretary of transportation in 2003 to discuss issues related to Shoppers.

The FBI is investigating whether Currie unlawfully used his legislative office to benefit the grocery while he was a paid consultant. Since 2003, Currie received more than $207,000 from the company, court records show, income he did not include on state financial disclosure forms.

Currie's attorney, Dale P. Kelberman, declined to comment, as did Haley M. Meyer, a spokeswoman for Supervalu Inc., Shoppers' parent company.

Edgerley said Currie did not mention that he was working for the company, a tie Edgerley said he would have liked to have known about before the meeting.

"Anyone would have liked to know that," Edgerley said.

Still, he described Currie's role in the meeting as "cordial and gentleman-like." He said Currie introduced DBED officials to the Shoppers representative and said little else.

"He didn't ask for anything," Edgerley said. "He basically just wanted us to get together."

On June 5, after the federal investigation became public, Edgerley wrote a memo to file describing the meeting, which has been turned over to the government in response to a subpoena. He wrote that the company wanted to know which incentives they would be "normally eligible" for.

"I informed those present that typically DBED does not provide any financial incentives for individual retail operations such as theirs," Edgerley wrote in the memo, which was first reported in the Washington Times.

Edgerley wrote that he was given a list of planned store locations "in many counties" in Maryland. He wrote that the stores might be eligible for assistance through an enterprise zone program, depending on their location, and he agreed to have his staff evaluate whether any store would be eligible.

Besides Edgerley, Currie met with Edgerley's predecessor, Aris Melissaratos, another DBED official and three Shoppers executives in January 2004 to discuss an effort to open a Shoppers store at Mondawmin Mall in Baltimore, notes from the meeting show. That meeting also took place in Currie's Senate office.

State officials had already offered a $3.6 million loan to help the Rouse Company refurbish the 50-year-old center. At the meeting, a Shoppers executive asked DBED officials to put an additional $2 million in state money into the project. Melissaratos offered to talk to Baltimore officials for Shoppers but told the that executives the state could provide no more funding, according to meeting notes.

Despite Melissaratos's conclusion, Currie did not drop the matter.

Two months later, Currie called a deputy mayor of Baltimore to inquire about the issue, according to an e-mail written by the official at the time. The next month, he met with a DBED official, grocery store executives and Baltimore development officials over coffee at Rip's Country Inn in Bowie to again discuss Shoppers' desire to adjust the $3.6 million loan, the DBED official has said in an interview. He said he did not know Currie was working for the grocer.

Before the loan was finalized, Rouse was bought out by Chicago-based General Growth Properties. Plans for the redevelopment were changed, and the state agency eventually offered the new developer a $1.8 million grant instead of the loan. A new Shoppers opened at the mall in November.

Currie also arranged a December 2003 meeting with then-Secretary of Transportation Robert L. Flanagan, the owner of Mondawmin Mall and other state officials to discuss the project, state records show.

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