By Annie Linskey, The Baltimore Sun
12:17 AM EDT, May 10, 2011
Federal prosecutors have dropped nearly half of the bribery charges against state Sen. Ulysses Currie, chopping seven counts that were connected to an outdated legal theory.
Currie, a Democrat, remains accused of accepting bribes from a grocery chain based in his district in exchange for favorable votes and legislation. He also is charged with lying to federal investigators.
Currie's attorney hailed the development as a victory. "We continue to puzzle over why these counts were brought in the first place," said Joseph Evans, a federal public defender.
Marcia Murphy, a spokeswoman for Maryland U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein, declined to comment. In court documents filed Friday, prosecutors wrote that the move would "streamline" their case against the Prince George's County senator and make jury instructions more straightforward.
They also said the dropped charges duplicated others that still stand in the indictment.
The seven dropped charges were all brought under a legal theory known as "honest services" that says officials are legally bound to act in their constituents' best interests.
Many were surprised in September when prosecutors included the set of charges in the Currie indictment: Three months earlier, the U.S. Supreme Court had severely narrowed how and when the theory could be used.
Federal prosecutors have long relied on the theory as a go-to charge when bringing public corruption cases against elected officials. In recent years, it has been used against Connecticut Gov. John G. Rowland and former Illinois Gov. George Ryan, both Republicans.
Defense attorneys have always questioned the legal theory, arguing it is overly broad and poorly defined. Evans said that he is still concerned that the barred theory "infects" the indictment.
Currie stepped down from his role as the chairman of the Budget and Taxation Committee after the charges were brought. He is still a member of that panel.
He is accused of accepting $245,816 from Shoppers Food & Pharmacy in exchange for helping the company navigate state bureaucracy from 2003 to 2008. Two executives from Shoppers were also indicted.
Prosecutors said Currie accepted bribes in exchange for securing state funds for a store in Baltimore, improving roads near stores in Prince George's and Baltimore counties, and facilitating state approvals in the construction of a store in Chillum.
Currie's lawyers have argued that the senator was properly employed as a consultant for the grocery chain, which has its headquarters in his district. Most elected officials in Maryland's part-time legislature hold outside jobs, and that work frequently informs how they determine policy.
The Currie case is set to go to trial in the end of September. Prosecutors expect it to last two weeks.
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