Prosecutors trace Fulton's earnings in 1998 to lobbyist


State Del. Tony E. Fulton would have had almost no earnings as a real estate agent in 1998 if lobbyist Gerard E. Evans had not steered a $9,805 commission to him when Evans' firm bought a building that year, a jury was told yesterday.

The evidence about Fulton's earnings came as a federal prosecutor questioned Joan Solomon, manager of the Long & Foster Real Estate office in Lutherville, about the delegate's commissions as an employee there.

She was the final prosecution witness in the mail fraud case against Evans and Fulton, a West Baltimore Democrat. Jurors also heard testimony from Evans' former lobbying partner, John R. Stierhoff, who was granted immunity from prosecution in exchange for his testimony but provided few new details in the case.

Evans, 44, and Fulton, 48, are each charged with 11 counts of mail and wire fraud. They are accused of scheming to generate lobbying fees for Evans by misleading paint manufacturers about the likelihood of legislation that would have made it easier for lead poisoning victims to sue the companies.

Prosecutors allege that the scheme generated tens of thousands of dollars in fees for the lobbyist from 1997 to 1999. As part of the scheme, they say, Evans steered the $9,805 real estate commission to Fulton on the purchase of a $600,000 office building.

Evans and Fulton have pleaded not guilty, and their attorneys have said that the prosecution has given a distorted picture of their actions. The defense lawyers will begin presenting their cases Monday.

In testimony yesterday, Solomon identified payment records showing that Fulton's total 1998 earnings from Long & Foster were $10,667, nearly all of which came from his commission on the Evans firm's purchase of the office building in Annapolis.

She also testified that Fulton was engaged "primarily" in residential sales, mostly in Baltimore City and Baltimore County. But she said Fulton had taken a course on selling commercial real estate and was interested in expanding into that area.

On cross-examination by Richard D. Bennett, Fulton's attorney, Solomon said 1998 was an atypical year for Fulton. She said he earned less that year than in any since he joined her office in 1996.

Bennett noted that 1998 was an election year and suggested that time spent campaigning might have hurt Fulton's commissions. His real estate earnings were $19,697 in 1996, $23,745 in 1997 and $13,797 in 1999, according to records shown jurors. The money was in addition to Fulton's legislative salary of roughly $30,000 a year.

The jury was not given details about an earlier real estate deal in 1989, when Evans steered a commission of about $8,800 to Fulton when Evans' employer at the time, the state medical society, purchased its office building in Annapolis - a deal outlined in The Sun last week.

The prosecution rested yesterday after calling 22 witnesses over eight days. Testimony showed that Evans repeatedly warned paint companies that the liability legislation was coming.

Evans said such a bill, known as "market-share" legislation, could come from Baltimore lawyer Peter G. Angelos or one of several elected officials, including Fulton.

The warnings were dire enough that by 1998, one paint company executive said Maryland had become the industry's "No. 1, front-burner state" for legislative concern.

Despite the alarms, three sessions of the General Assembly came and went with no legislation introduced - by Fulton or anyone else. Even so, Evans collected more than $400,000 during that time from paint companies and asbestos manufacturers also concerned about such legislation.

Evans attorney, Robert C. Bonsib, has said the companies paid "a lot of money" but got "a lot of service" from the lobbyist.

Bonsib also has seized on testimony suggesting that the paint companies did have reason to worry, noting that aides to Angelos were making inquiries in Annapolis about a lead-paint bill. And Bonsib pushed to make sure the jury found out that Angelos did eventually have a paint bill introduced - although it came only this year, after the indictment of Evans and Fulton.

Jurors will have to weigh that against testimony that Evans either lied to or misled his clients several times.

Then-Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke was pushing a paint bill, Evans told his clients in 1998. Not true, the mayor testified this week.

Sen. Paul G. Pinsky of Prince George's County testified that Evans' assertions that he was putting in a bill were also bogus.

Finally, prosecutors presented evidence they hope will show that Evans went to great lengths to deceive his clients in 1998 to make sure they stayed concerned enough to keep his payments coming.

The testimony revolved around a letter Fulton sent to Schmoke that fall seeking the mayor's support for a market-share bill that Fulton said he planned to introduce.

Sonya Healy, a former associate in Evans' firm, testified that he gave her a draft of the letter to fax to Fulton. Her testimony was designed to suggest that Evans had actually written the letter, against his own clients' interests.

Healy said Evans told her that the letter would send a strong enough warning to the paint companies that they would rehire him for the upcoming legislative session to battle the expected bill.

Evans and Fulton are both expected to deny that Evans wrote the crucial letter to Schmoke.

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