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.
July 2 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 between lawmaking, lobbying and political contributions in Maryland 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 required that he 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 -- that 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 period, 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 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 Takes On Television
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.
On to the Next Campaign
Cheryl Benton, who managed the campaign of D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams last year, has signed on to run the quest by Carl Stokes to become mayor of Baltimore. Stokes is a former school board and city council member.
Earlier this year, she led the Draft Mfume 2000 campaign, when supporters of NAACP President Kweisi Mfume tried to persuade him to run for mayor. Mfume decided not to run.
"This is a critical election," Benton said in a statement announcing her new job. "Baltimore's next mayor must be committed to fighting drugs and street crime, cleaning up our neighborhoods and keeping our children safe and secure. Carl Stokes will be that mayor."
Staff writers Spencer S. Hsu and Robert E. Pierre contributed to this report.