More than $450,000 in legal bills accumulated by convicted lobbyist Bruce C. Bereano during his federal fraud case have been paid by GTECH Corp., a former client that won a controversial $49 million state lottery contract in 1992 with Mr. Bereano's help.
It was the GTECH contract that prompted federal authorities to begin investigating Mr. Bereano three years ago.
Asked yesterday why the company would foot such a hefty legal bill, Mr. Bereano said: "I think you know the answer to that. I was being investigated and indicted because of my representation and services on their behalf." Ultimately, Mr. Bereano was convicted of activities unrelated to the company or the contract.
The lobbyist disclosed details of his legal bills yesterday after announcing plans to solicit $300,000 toward a legal defense fund. That step coincided with a request by his defense lawyers this week to quit the case over unpaid legal bills.
He still owes the Weinberg and Green law firm more than $200,000, of a $668,000 bill. But he said GTECH is unlikely to pay more of the expense.
"If I expected that, I would not start this defense fund," he said. Paying the bills himself is "absolutely impossible -- I don't have the money."
A GTECH spokesman confirmed that the company had paid Mr. Bereano's legal bills but had stopped after federal prosecutors in May 1994 made it clear they would not bring charges related to the firm's successful efforts to win Maryland lottery contracts.
The payments from GTECH stopped "when it became apparent that he was being prosecuted for reasons wholly unrelated to that matter," said Robert J. Rendine, director of public relations for the Rhode Island-based firm. "He was clearly on his own at that point."
Mr. Rendine said last night it would take further review to determine how much the company had paid for Mr. Bereano's defense. He said, though, that Mr. Bereano's stated figure of $455,000 "seems to be a bit exaggerated."
GTECH, a corporation that had $695 million in revenue in the past year and has lottery contracts in 27 states, dropped its relationship with Mr. Bereano after his conviction.
Mr. Bereano was found guilty in November of defrauding clients of more than $16,000 to make illegal campaign contributions. He was sentenced to five years of probation and fined $20,000.
His case is on appeal with the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which will decide whether the Weinberg and Green lawyers may withdraw.
In court papers, M. Albert Figinski -- Mr. Bereano's lawyer and longtime friend -- and co-counsel Stuart Berger asked to withdraw from the case because Mr. Bereano "has made no satisfactory arrangements to satisfy his obligations."
The dispute, Mr. Bereano said, is not between him and his two lawyers -- whose work he described as "extraordinary" -- but between him and the executive committee of their law firm, Weinberg and Green.
Charles O. Monk II, managing partner of the firm, yesterday said the firm tried to draft a payment agreement with Mr. Bereano, and was willing to wait for the money.
But he said the lobbyist did not cooperate.
"We were trying to make an arrangement with Bereano because he has not paid a dime out of his own pocket," Mr. Monk said. "This matter has been going on for years. We have a number of lawyers working on it and we have expenses. We need to get paid for our services."
Mr. Bereano said he will fight the firm's request to withdraw. It would cost him at least $100,000 extra for new lawyers to be brought up to speed on the case he said. "This is a mercenary attempt by Weinberg and Green to unilaterally impose additional terms on me when they think they have me over a barrel," he said.
"I'm getting a raw deal. The last payment was $87,000 on June 7 [from GTECH]. I would have thought that would have kept the dogs away for a couple of months at the least."
The criminal case has put a dent in his lobbying practice, which dropped from 54 clients to 14. Since 1994, when he was indicted, his lobbying income has dropped by more than $600,000, he said.
Last month, representing himself before the Maryland Court of Appeals, Mr. Bereano persuaded the judges to allow him to continue practicing law while his case is on appeal. He said he is trying to rebuild both his lobbying and law practices.
The idea of a legal defense fund took shape last spring during discussions with friends, he said. "I'm going to be writing a lot of people," he said. "Humbly, politely and respectfully, I will be asking for their assistance." Letters seeking contributions will go out next week. He would not say how many letters he intends to send or to whom.