A federal grand jury charged Currie with 18 counts of bribery, mail fraud and other offenses. Two Shoppers executives were also charged. Despite the investigation, Currie was re-elected in 2010 without meaningful opposition in either the primary or the general election.

When Currie went to trial last fall, prosecutors presented a series of witnesses who testified to Currie's interventions on behalf of Shoppers. They included former State Highway Administration chief Neil J. Pedersen, who told jurors Currie never told him that he was being compensated by Shoppers at a time when the senator was pushing for a stoplight on Reisterstown Road, far from Currie's district.

Currie's lawyers mounted an unusual defense that did little for the senator's reputation in Annapolis but apparently contributed to his acquittal. They presented witnesses who portrayed the senator as a likable but clueless legislator who didn't understand that what he was doing was wrong.

"On the smart [scale], he's right at the bottom," former Prince George's Del. Timothy F. Maloney told the jury. "On the nice [scale], he's right at the top."

The defense bolstered its case with a series of character witnesses, including Rep. Steny A. Hoyer and Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown, both Democrats, and former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican.

After a six-week trial and three days of deliberation, the jury found Currie not guilty on all counts last November. But in view of the admissions made at Currie's trial, Miller referred his case to the ethics committee — a body made up of six senators and six delegates with equal representation of Democrats and Republicans.

In its report, the committee took note of what it called Currie's "general disorganization and lack of attention to important details" in reaching its conclusion that his violations weren't malicious.

But the panel said that despite what it called "mitigating circumstances," Currie clearly violated the law and Assembly rules and "eroded the confidence and trust of the people and other governmental officials who work with legislators."

In addition to its findings about Currie, the committee urged the Senate president and House Speaker Michael E. Busch to require each lawmaker to have an annual meeting with the General Assembly's ethics adviser to go over tax returns. The panel also said the adviser should report to the presiding officers any members who fail to comply with that requirement.

Meanwhile, the committee found that Currie communicated with state officials in a way that would have required him to register as a lobbyist. The panel referred Currie's failure to do so to the State Ethics Commission, but stated that even if Currie had registered, it would not have made his actions proper.

"A member of the General Assembly cannot be a lobbyist and any violations of this prohibition will be vigorously enforced," the report states.

After Currie's acquittal, Miller did not restore him to his chairmanship. Instead of his former seat at the front and center of the Senate floor, Currie now occupies a position at the fringe of the chamber traditionally reserved for members with considerable seniority but little real influence.

michael.dresser@baltsun.com

annie.linskey@baltsun.com