A portrait of a very persistent Sen. Ulysses Currie emerged Wednesday during testimony in federal court by Maryland’s former state highway administrator.
Retiring administrator Neil J. Pedersen told jurors of repeated efforts by Currie (D-Prince George’s) to help secure permission for stoplights at intersections that would benefit two Shoppers Food Warehouse stores.
Currie is on trial in federal court related to his role as a consultant for the grocery chain, which he failed to disclose on state ethics forms. Prosecutors contend the more than $245,000 in payments Currie received amounted to bribery and extortion.
Pedersen, called by the prosecution, testified that Currie never told him that he was being paid by Shoppers or why he was interested in stoplights at stores outside his legislative district.
“It was never explained to me,” Pedersen said. “I was assuming he was acting on behalf of a constituent.”
Typically developers, not the state, pay for stoplights at their shopping centers. But developers must get permission from the highway administration to install a light on a state-owned road.
In an 2003 letter seeking permission for a light at a shopping center where Shoppers was looking to put a store in Owings Mills, Currie contacted Pedersen on the letterhead of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee. Currie served as chairman of the panel at the time.
A series of documents presented in court showed that during 2003 and 2004, Shoppers, with Currie’s assistance, continued to make attempts to get a light at the shopping center, even after the administration had said multiple times that its analysis showed one was not needed .
In a February 2004 e-mail to a colleague, Pedersen wrote that Currie “asks me every time he sees me” about the issue.
Eventually, the highway administration granted permission instead for the shopping center to start allowing left turns out of the complex, a step that improved traffic flow without use of a light.
In the other case, permission was given by Pedersen’s agency for a light at a Shoppers in Laurel. In one e-mail shown in court, Pedersen asked staff to expedite the review given the sway Currie’s committee had over his agency’s budget and legislative priorities.
Several Anne Arundel County officials also lobbied the highway administration for the light at that store.
Court broke Wednesday before lawyers for Currie and two grocery chain executives, who are also defendants in the case, had a chance to question Pedersen.
In an opening statement Tuesday, a lawyer for Currie said he never pressured state officials when decisions went against Shoppers.
Testimony is scheduled to resume Monday in the U.S. District Court in Baltimore.