By John Wagner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 18, 2010; B01
Maryland Sen. Ulysses Currie (D-Prince George's) entered not-guilty pleas Friday to all 18 counts in an indictment that alleges that he took more than $245,000 in bribes to use his position and influence to do favors for a grocery chain.
Currie, who temporarily stepped down as the chairman of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee after his Sept. 1 indictment, was represented in U.S. District Court in Baltimore by a pair of federal public defenders who have replaced his private attorneys in the case.
Currie, 73, who was accompanied by his wife, declined to comment to reporters, and one of his attorneys, Joseph L. Evans, said he was too new to the case to discuss its substance.
"What I can say is that Senator Currie is highly respected -- beloved, really -- by those who know him and work with him," Evans said. "We're honored to represent him."
The indictment alleges that for six years, Currie aided Shoppers Food and Pharmacy in dealings with the state, including transportation improvements, without disclosing his paid role on state ethics forms or to state officials. A previous attorney said Currie did legitimate consulting work.
Currie is facing several counts that carry maximum sentences of 25 years in prison.
Currie was required to forfeit his passport Friday, but no other conditions were placed on his release other than showing up for court proceedings.
Kathleen O. Gavin, a federal prosecutor handling the case, estimated that a trial would take four to six weeks.
Asked why Currie, a retired educator, no longer had a private attorney, Evans said, "These sorts of cases are tremendously expensive, and frankly only the wealthy can afford to defend themselves with private counsel."
Evans said that Currie, whose home was raided by FBI agents in May 2008, was suffering from several health issues and that the case was taking a toll on him.
"This is a horrible, horrible strain on him," Evans said. "He's been in the sights of federal law enforcement going on three years now. . . . He's doing the best he can under the circumstances."
This week, a federal judge approved an agreement that calls for the parent company of Shoppers to pay a $2.5 million penalty and cooperate in Currie's prosecution.
Under the agreement, if Shoppers continues to cooperate, federal attorneys will drop the criminal prosecution of the chain.
The charges Currie faces include bribery, conspiracy, extortion, mail fraud and false statements. Authorities say Currie received payments that started at $3,000 a month in February 2003. By December 2007, his monthly payment was $7,600.
Currie was elected to represent a Prince George's district in the House of Delegates in 1986. Eight years later, he won his Senate seat.
He was unopposed in Tuesday's Democratic primary. He is running unopposed in the November general election; no Republican candidate filed by the July deadline.