After five months of spending the night at a halfway house with convicted drug dealers as roommates, Annapolis super-lobbyist Bruce C. Bereano has begun sleeping at home again.
Friday was Bereano's last day at the Volunteers of America's halfway house, a former motel and brothel amid East Baltimore's warehouses where the lobbyist had begun serving a federal sentence for defrauding his clients and using the exaggerated fees for political contributions.
Bereano will spend the next five months with an electronic bracelet around his ankle. He'll be able to go to his law office and on other outings, such as the political fund-raisers that are part of his job. Otherwise, he will have to stick close to his posh waterfront home near Annapolis, where a monitor for the ankle bracelet has been linked to his telephone.
Bereano, the first Annapolis lobbyist to make $1 million in a single year, helped transform the relationship of lawmaking, lobbying and political contributions in his early days as a lobbyist in the 1980s. During the last General Assembly session, he continued to lobby, even though he was living in the halfway house.
Prison officials forced him to spend his days at his law office, rather than working the halls of the State House. But Bereano still managed to kill a bill for one longtime client--the state's vending machine operators--which would have banned cigarette sales in vending machines.
"I'm certainly happy that the first phase of my sentence has been completed," Bereano said. "I love my home, and I love being at home."
Asked whether he learned anything from his experience, Bereano cited seeing the criminal justice system from the inside and learning to slow the pace of his life.
Bereano, an avid fan of the Washington Wizards and Capitals and the Baltimore Orioles, said, "One good thing was that my time when I was prevented from going to sporting events coincided with the teams that I love having such poor seasons."
Later in his home detention, Bereano said, he will receive time off for recreation and plans to take in a game at Camden Yards.
But asked whether the experience had prompted any remorse for being convicted of a crime--the U.S. Supreme Court refused his appeal earlier this year, and the Maryland Bar has notified him that it intends to revoke his law license--Bereano said: "I accept the conviction because it occurred and it's been affirmed by an appellate court. But I have maintained my innocence all along, and, respectfully, I still maintain my innocence."
He said he would contest any effort to revoke his law license. He noted that, of the four clients he was convicted of defrauding, none have ever said they felt cheated. Two still remain his clients. The other two, he said, had hired him for only one legislative session, so he did not expect them to remain long-term clients.
"I know in my heart and I know in my soul I did not steal from my clients," he said.
Bereano remains popular with many lawmakers, including members of the legislature's top leadership. House Majority Leader John A. Hurson (D-Montgomery) has said that Bereano is Annapolis's most effective lobbyist and that he continues to rely on him for political advice.
Bereano said, "The next five months will go very quickly."
Neas Tackles a New Role
Democrat Ralph G. Neas, who already is asking supporters for help to set up a 2000 rematch against Rep. Constance A. Morella (R-Md.), has taken on a new role as strategic adviser to a consumer alliance seeking public-interest regulations on television.
People for Better TV, a group including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Communications Workers of America, the NAACP and the National Organization for Women, is lobbying the Federal Communications Commission to set up standards for television station owners as they expand into digital television.
"In the wake of the Littleton massacre, various efforts have begun to launch a national discussion on the influences on youth violence in examining movies, music and video games," Neas said. "We must not, however, ignore the role of television."
Neas, a former executive director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, is now an independent consultant at the Neas Group.
Budget Battle Costs a Job
The budget season fight in Montgomery County over County Executive Douglas M. Duncan's public relations machinery has yielded one casualty: Mike Hall.
The County Council, angry over what members described as the Office of Public Information's penchant for revisionist history, cut one position from the department's budget. And Hall, a 25-year county employee, will retire as a result.
But no one should feel sorry for Hall, an affable former paramedic and firefighter before his spokesman days. He has been named manager of media and communications for Silver Spring-based Holy Cross Health. That means a pension and a paycheck starting next month.
The job marks a return to Holy Cross Hospital for Hall, who worked there as a pharmacy and emergency room technician 28 years ago. Even then, he was in the middle of news. Hall's first night shift was May 15, 1972--the day former Alabama governor and presidential candidate George Wallace was brought in after being shot in Laurel.
Last week, Duncan (D) and Hall's colleagues held a mock dedication in his honor. They filmed a fake news conference on the fourth floor of the Executive Office Building in Rockville where the public information office is located. From this day forward, the floor's long gray corridor will be known as the "Mike Hall-way."
Staff writers Spencer S. Hsu and Robert E. Pierre contributed to this column.