Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown testified Monday morning that state Sen. Ulysses S. Currie, who is charged in U.S. District Court with taking bribes from a grocery chain, has been a mentor to him both professionally and personally.

"Senator Currie has a reputation of being a good guy — the nicest guy, that's what people always say … the nicest guy you'll ever meet," said Brown, who is widely expected to be a leading gubernatorial candidate in 2014.

He described Currie as a "very caring," yet disorganized legislator. "He's a man of strong integrity and conviction and beliefs," Brown said.

The testimony, which lasted roughly 10 minutes, continues a theme in Currie's defense. Attorneys for the Prince George's County Democrat have called current and former politicians to the stand as character witnesses for the senator, whom they describe as endlessly friendly, but not particularly pulled together.

A week ago, former Maryland delegate Timothy F. Maloney told the jury that Currie was "right at the bottom" of the smart scale. And U.S. Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, the second-highest-ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives, called Currie "decent" and "honest," but added that organization is not "his strong point."

Legal experts claim the strategy amounts to an "I'm an idiot defense" that asks the jury to believe that Currie wasn't aware his actions were illegal.

Currie is accused of using a consulting contract with Shoppers Food Warehouse to mask an extortion scheme, in which he traded legislative favors for $245,000 over a five-year period. He neglected to list the job on legislature ethics forms, which his attorneys have blamed on his supposed scatterbrained nature.

Currie has denied the allegations and said the contract was an innocent, professional endeavor. When questioned by Assistant U.S. Attorney Kathleen Gavin on Monday, Brown said he didn't know about the contract with Shoppers, and called the ethics form disclosures an important requirement for legislators.

Brown, who became lieutenant governor in 2006, managed Currie's 1994 election campaign and shared a ticket with him four years later during his own run for a position in the House of Delegates. They've remained friends since, Brown said, with Currie meeting his parents and attending the christening of Brown's daughter.

tricia.bishop@baltsun.com

  • Text NEWS to 70701 to get Baltimore Sun local news text alerts