The ex-wife of lobbyist Bruce C. Bereano told a jury in Baltimore yesterday that he gave her money to make political contributions so he could get around legal limits.
Prosecutors in U.S. District Court allege that the donations were part of her husband's scheme to defraud his lobbying clients of thousands of dollars.
Mr. Bereano, the highest paid lobbyist in Annapolis, is fighting for his livelihood in a trial that reveals the tangled relationships between lobbyists and state legislators.
Prosecutors say he gave employees and relatives the money to make donations to candidates and to his own political action committee, Bereano PAC. He then billed clients for the contributions, which were falsely labeled as "legislative entertainment" expenses, they contend.
Prosecutors got down to the nitty-gritty of setting up their mail-fraud case yesterday by calling Mr. Bereano's former wife and former employees.
Betty Nadine Snyder, his ex-wife, said she wrote two checks -- one for $175 and the other for $2,500 -- to Bereano PAC in 1990 while they were married. She said Mr. Bereano reimbursed her with cash for those amounts.
He asked her to make the contributions because "he had given the limit" allowed, she said. "He assured me this was proper; there was no wrongdoing involved in it."
She said Mr. Bereano asked her daughter to donate $2,500 to Bereano PAC, which she did in 1990, and he reimbursed her with cash. "She was in school, so I made a deposit in her account," Ms. Snyder said.
The testimony by Ms. Snyder, whom defense attorneys declined to question, came a day after Mr. Bereano's elderly parents testified about contributions they made to Bereano PAC. Later testimony by other witnesses showed that Mr. Bereano's son, Bryon, gave $2,500 to the political action committee when he was a college freshman. Within a few days, $2,500 in cash was deposited in the son's account.
A former Bereano employee, Donna Robey Spencer, said she donated $250 to political candidate Tommie Broadwater in 1990 at the request of the office bookkeeper. She was reimbursed through an office check that falsely listed "office supplies" as the reason for the payment, she said.
Mrs. Spencer said she became concerned about the donation when Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., a Prince George's County Democrat, told her not to do it again.
"He asked me, 'What's a nice person like you doing giving money to Tommie Broadwater?' " she testified. Mr. Miller then told her, "'Don't do that anymore. Take my advice,' " she said.
Mr. Broadwater, a state Senate candidate from Prince George's County in 1990, had been convicted of food stamp fraud in 1983.
Mr. Bereano, however, told her not to worry about it, she said.