Md. Lobbyist Faces Disciplinary Hearing
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 19, 1999; Page B1
Prominent Maryland lobbyist Bruce Bereano was confined yesterday to his Baltimore halfway house after authorities said he violated the terms of his work release by leaving his law office to visit legislators at their offices and in the State House.
The lobbyist, who had been sentenced to five months in a halfway house for his 1994 federal conviction for mail fraud, had been back on the job in Annapolis for three days. He faces a disciplinary hearing this morning with officials of the Volunteers of America-Chesapeake, who operate the halfway house. They said they acted after seeing an article in Wednesday's Washington Post about Bereano's return to the state capital.
The story told of Bereano, once the state's top-earning lobbyist and still a fixture in Maryland's political world, visiting legislators at their offices. The story was accompanied by a photo of him talking with a lawmaker at the State House. Under the terms of his work release, Bereano had been restricted to working at his Annapolis law office.
"I knew that," he said in a telephone interview yesterday. "I also knew they were wrong, that there was no legal basis for the restriction."
An angry Bereano said that lobbying required him to meet with lawmakers personally and to attend legislative hearings. He said that the sentencing judge knew that in approving him for work release.
Because it was Bereano's first violation, Gretchen Crosland, a Volunteers of America vice president, said his punishment was not likely to be severe. But, she said, "he will have to remain [at the halfway house] until we resolve this."
Bereano was convicted of eight counts of mail fraud in 1994 for over-billing his clients. Prosecutors said he used the money to funnel campaign contributions through employees and family members to candidates during the 1990 elections. In December, after four years of legal wrangling, U.S. District Judge William Nickerson sentenced him to five months in the halfway house, followed by five months of home detention and three years on probation.
Bereano has filed an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court, which on Wednesday ordered the Solicitor General's Office to respond to his petition, an indication that the justices have some interest in the case.
On Feb. 5, Bereano entered the halfway house, and after an orientation period, he returned to Annapolis on Monday, spending the day at his law office. Tuesday marked his first day of lobbying, and The Post article appeared the next day.
Bereano's probation officer, Renata Ramsburg, wrote a memo to Nickerson last week saying that it would be difficult to monitor Bereano's lobbying and that "it sends the wrong message to other lobbyists that may be tempted to violate the law." But she said her office would not oppose Bereano's lobbying if Nickerson was willing to allow it.
Ramsburg referred questions yesterday to her supervisor, David Johnson, who did not respond to a telephone message.
Late yesterday, Bereano's attorney, Joshua R. Treem, said that Nickerson had approved Bereano's lobbying and had phoned Ramsburg within the past two days to say so. Treem said it was possible Bereano could return to work as early as today, subject to restrictions that probably would include a curfew and limitations on Bereano's movements around Annapolis, but that would allow him to leave his law office.
But Crosland said that no determination had been made on whether to lift the restriction keeping Bereano at his law office.
In the federal justice system, Nickerson's rulings on Bereano's work release technically are only guidelines. Although the federal Bureau of Prisons typically follows those recommendations, it could send Bereano to prison.
Restrictions on Bereano's ability to lobby are legal, according to Mary Shilton, the Washington representative of the International Community Corrections Association.
"It's not unusual for white-collar criminals to not be able to [work at their profession] because of some limitations," she said.
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