PRINCE GEORGE'S COUNTY
2 Testify to Grand Jury In Currie Investigation
Thursday, September 4, 2008
The chairman of the Prince George's County liquor board appeared yesterday before a federal grand jury investigating state Sen. Ulysses Currie, an indication that prosecutors are presenting witnesses to a grand jury considering allegations against the powerful senator.
Also yesterday, former state senator John A. Giannetti Jr. (D-Prince George's) confirmed that he, too, has appeared before the federal grand jury, offering testimony about a 2005 bill that allowed the transfer of a liquor license from one Shoppers Food and Pharmacy grocery store in Prince George's to another.
Authorities have been investigating Currie's consulting work for the Lanham-based grocery chain, a relationship he did not disclose on state financial forms. According to court documents, Currie (D-Prince George's) began working for the company in 2003 and was paid $207,000 from then through last year.
Franklin Jackson, head of Prince George's Board of Liquor License Commissioners, entered a hearing room on the eighth floor of the Baltimore federal courthouse just after 1 p.m. and emerged about 90 minutes later. Jackson, who appeared in response to a subpoena, would not comment afterward.
Dale Kelberman, an attorney for Currie, also declined to comment.
When Currie worked for the company, he had numerous contacts with state agencies on issues concerning the grocery chain, including tax incentives and traffic lights. Federal officials have issued subpoenas to state agencies in connection with the case, gathering thousands of pages of documents to present to the grand jury.
An affidavit filed in May by the FBI to secure a search warrant for Currie's house indicated the agency was investigating whether Currie used his legislative position to benefit the company.
Jackson and Giannetti are the first witnesses known to have appeared before the panel. Their testimony might suggest prosecutors are focusing on the 2005 decision by the five-member Prince George's liquor board to allow Shoppers to transfer a beer and wine license from its Takoma Park store to one in College Park.
Generally, state law does not allow the Prince George's liquor board to issue new licenses to grocery stores, and it prohibits the transfer of licenses such as the one held by the Takoma Park store from one county legislative district to another.
Therefore, new legislation was required to allow the College Park store to get a license to sell beer and wine. On the last day of the 2005 Maryland General Assembly session, Sen. Gwendolyn T. Britt (D-Prince George's) submitted an amendment to an unrelated bill to allow the liquor board to approve the transfer.
Britt died in January. Her husband has said she said at the time that Currie pressured her to offer the amendment.
In a June interview, Giannetti, who at the time represented the College Park area and supported the transfer, said that he was unaware of any pressure by Currie and that he did not think it was needed, given that he was willing to sponsor the bill.
Giannetti also said that he did not know what Currie and Britt discussed when he was not present and that Currie was actively engaged in discussions about the legislation.
Currie suggested Giannetti steer clear of the issue because he was already feuding with the College Park City Council, which opposed the transfer, Giannetti said in the interview.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) said last week that a state legislative ethics committee will explore whether Currie violated Maryland ethics law through his work for Shoppers, even if federal authorities do not charge him with a crime. State ethics laws prohibit legislators from working as paid lobbyists.