By Annie Linskey, The Baltimore Sun
7:25 PM EDT, August 5, 2011
A federal judge in Baltimore has denied efforts by state Sen. Ulysses Currie and two former executives of Shoppers Food Warehouse to throw out bribery and extortion charges, leaving the prosecutor's case intact.
U.S. District Judge Richard D. Bennett ruled Friday that the government had correctly charged a case that alleges Currie was paid $245,000 in bribes over a five-year period for legislative favors and influence beneficial to the supermarket chain.
Currie, a Democrat, is accused of using his influence as the chairman of a powerful Senate committee to do favors for Shoppers, a company headquartered in his Prince George's County district. Former Shoppers' executives William J. White and R. Kevin Small are also named in the indictment.
Prosecutors listed a number of ways they believe Currie helped the company over a five-year period, including securing favorable rent rates for the Shoppers in Baltimore's Mondawmin Mall and pushing for roughly $2 million in road improvements that benefited the grocery chain.
They also pointed to his legislative record in the Senate, which included support for liquor legislation favorable to the chain and proposed delays of new energy standards, according to the charges.
The public defender's office, which is representing Currie, says that that the senator's work on behalf of Shoppers was above board and proper. They say that the grocery chain had hired him as a consultant. Like most state senators, Currie is paid $43,500 a year, a sum intended to reflect the part-time schedule. Most state lawmakers have other jobs.
In denying the motion to dismiss, Bennett issued two orders, causing some confusion. Initially he put out a document indicating that he'd thrown out some conspiracy charges but in an accompanying memo Bennett affirmed the prosecutors' points on all counts. Later in the day Bennett issued a second order, clarifying that all the charges would stand.
Currie's attorney, Joseph Evans, declined to comment on the ruling.
Currie stepped down as chairman of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee last fall when prosecutors indicted him. He remains a member of the panel.
In May, federal prosecutors dropped nearly half of their case against Currie because the charges were connected to an outdated legal theory. Prosecutors at the time said the smaller case was "streamlined" and said the thrust of their case would still go forward.
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