State House lobbyist Gerard E. Evans told a federal jury yesterday that he did nothing to defraud his clients, denying allegations by prosecutors that he repeatedly misled companies about the threat of hostile legislation.
Evans, once the top-earning lobbyist in Annapolis, testified that warnings he repeatedly gave those companies - warnings that proved to be largely empty - were based on information he thought was true.
"That was a representation, made as a good-faith belief, that that was what was happening," Evans said. "That's what I believed at the time."
Evans and his co-defendant, state Del. Tony E. Fulton, are charged with conspiring to generate lobbying fees for Evans by concocting or exaggerating the threat of legislation aimed at paint and asbestos manufacturers.
The firms paid Evans $400,000 over two years to fight such legislation, though none was introduced.
On the stand for a second day of testimony in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, Evans told jurors he did a good job providing generally accurate intelligence to his clients about the major issues that concerned them in Annapolis.
"Did you scheme with Delegate Fulton to defraud your clients?" Evans' attorney, Robert C. Bonsib, asked.
"Of course not," Evans replied.
But as Evans denied any wrongdoing, he left some important questions unanswered.
He was unable to say, for example, where he obtained information - which he passed on to his clients - that a Prince George's senator would be introducing legislation against paint companies. In earlier testimony, the senator sharply disputed Evans' assertion.
Nor could Evans recall a meeting with former Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke to talk about lead paint issues. Evans told clients that at the meeting, he learned that Schmoke, too, was planning to support legislation aimed at them. Schmoke has testified he recalls no such meeting.
Evans, 44, and Fulton, 48, are each charged with 11 counts of mail and wire fraud. Each count carries a penalty of up to 5 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Prosecutors allege that Fulton, a West Baltimore Democrat, falsely led people to believe he might introduce lead paint legislation as part of the scheme to drum up fees for Evans. They also contend that as part of the scheme, Evans steered a $10,000 real estate commission to Fulton.
Fulton, who testified last week, has denied the charges. Evans is expected to conclude his testimony today, and the case could go to the jury as early as Monday.
During yesterday's testimony:
Evans said that soon after he signed on as a lobbyist for the paint companies in January 1997, he discovered in a conversation with Fulton that the legislator had plans to introduce a lead paint liability bill.
Under questioning from Assistant U.S. Attorney Dale P. Kelberman, Evans called it a "coincidence" that Fulton said he was considering such legislation at the same time Evans stood to gain $48,000 in extra fees that year if such a bill were proposed.
Kelberman asked Evans which other legislators he had sounded out about the issue.
"Nobody," Evans replied.
"It was a lucky guess, huh?" replied Kelberman. Evans later amended his comments to say that he had also talked to legislative leaders about the prospects for such a bill.
Evans said he did not recall who told him that Sen. Paul G. Pinsky, a Prince George's Democrat, was preparing to introduce lead paint legislation in the 1998 General Assembly session.
Evans wrote his clients in the fall of 1997 about the alleged threat from Pinsky. In earlier testimony, Pinsky said that he had no such plans and that he had never even heard of the kind of legislation Evans referred to.
Evans said he passed along the information about Pinsky to his clients because it seemed plausible to him.
"Senator Pinsky had always been on the side of the trial lawyers," Evans said. "It fit for me that Senator Pinsky would be the most likely candidate" to sponsor a bill.
Evans was unable to recall any specifics of his supposed meeting with Schmoke on the subject of holding paint companies liable for lead poisoning.
In an August 1998 memo, Evans told clients he had met with Schmoke and that the mayor indicated he planned to support such legislation during the upcoming General Assembly session.
Evans testified yesterday that he didn't remember the details, but suggested he might have chatted with Schmoke during an Orioles-Indians baseball game.
Throughout his testimony, Evans suggested that his clients had real cause to fear possible lead paint legislation. He repeatedly invoked the specter of Baltimore attorney Peter G. Angelos and his interest in a bill to make it easier to sue paint manufacturers.
"Peter Angelos was the point man on this issue," Evans testified.
Although no such bill was introduced during the period covered by the charges against Evans and Fulton, Angelos did persuade lawmakers to introduce one during this year's General Assembly session.
Bonsib and Evans said this year's bill, which did not pass, proved that Evans' warnings were on target.
Prosecutor Kelberman disagreed.
"It is not about Peter Angelos," Kelberman told District Judge J. Frederick Motz during a legal argument yesterday. "This is just one big giant smoke screen."