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Evans prison term sought

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Federal prosecutors are asking a judge to sentence Gerard E. Evans, once the highest-paid lobbyist in Annapolis, to five to six years in prison for defrauding some of his clients.

The U.S. attorney's office also wants Evans, who was convicted of nine counts of mail fraud, to be ordered to pay nearly $500,000 in fines and restitution.

As prosecutors filed papers in U.S. District Court in Baltimore recommending the penalties for Evans, they also announced that they will not retry Del. Tony E. Fulton on charges that he helped in the scheme to defraud Evans' clients.

U.S. Attorney Lynne A. Battaglia said her office concluded that it was "not in the best interests of justice" to retry the West Baltimore Democrat and that the chances of winning a conviction against him were slim.

State Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said prosecutors "came after Mr. Fulton with both barrels blasting," but failed to prove their case.

"I think the case against Tony Fulton was a weak case from the very beginning," Miller said. "The only reason [for charging him] was as leverage to try to convict Gerry Evans."

Evans' attorney, Robert C. Bonsib, said he is hopeful that District Judge J. Frederick Motz will reject the penalties that the prosecution is proposing for his client as too severe. Evans is to be sentenced Friday.

"We believe they are in error in how they calculated the sentencing guidelines," Bonsib said.

The case centered on dealings by Evans, 44, with paint companies that were his clients between 1997 and 1999. He was accused of concocting or exaggerating the threat of legislation that the companies feared so he could keep them as clients and collect big lobbying fees.

The legislation would have made it easier for victims of lead poisoning to sue paint manufacturers, exposing the companies to tens of millions of dollars in potential damages.

Prosecutors tried to prove that Fulton, 48, took part in the scheme by twice threatening to introduce such legislation, although he never did. They claimed that Evans, as part of the scheme, steered a $10,000 real estate commission to Fulton when the lobbying firm purchased an office building in 1998.

Fulton acknowledged making empty threats to introduce the legislation. He told jurors he did so not to help Evans make money, but to try to get the paint companies to contribute to community projects in his district.

After a four-week trial in July, the jury acquitted Fulton of five counts of mail fraud but deadlocked on six others.

Battaglia noted that even jurors who voted to convict on those charges recommended against a retrial, indicating that it would be difficult to convince 12 jurors of the legislator's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

"After considering all these factors, including the conviction of Mr. Evans, we have concluded that a retrial of Delegate Fulton is not in the best interests of justice," Battaglia said.

She suggested the General Assembly could pursue separate action against Fulton - alluding to questions raised during the trial about possible violations of state ethics laws.

"Our office will certainly make available all the evidence presented during the trial in the case to the Maryland legislature, in the event the legislature elects to pursue any issues arising out of the trial," Battaglia said.

Fulton issued a statement though his attorney, Richard D. Bennett, saying he was glad the remaining criminal charges are being dropped and "very grateful that this matter is over."

He added, "I was never part of any fraud and look forward to continuing to serve my constituents."

Bennett said that the trial was a major ordeal for Fulton and that he saw no reason for the General Assembly's ethics committee to launch an investigation.

He noted that other legislators testified they had sometimes threatened legislation to get the attention of companies in an attempt to extract benefits for their constituents.

"The record speaks for itself, and Delegate Fulton certainly has not been guilty of any ethical violation," Bennett said. "I see no reason for the ethics committee to explore this."

His view was shared by some of Fulton's legislative colleagues.

"I think it would be a waste of taxpayers' money to have the legislature even look at it again," said Del. Talmadge Branch, a Baltimore Democrat.

He said the trial was devastating to Fulton. "I think he's learned a lesson, if there was a lesson to be learned, and I think that should be it," Branch said.

Del. Howard P. Rawlings, another Baltimore Democrat, said he was confident that any ethics probe would find that Fulton had not committed any violations.

After the trial ended, House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. called on the ethics committee to review the transcript and come back with "any appropriate recommendations." The committee's co-chairmen, noting confidentiality rules, have refused to say whether they are conducting such a review.

Taylor could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Miller suggested that General Assembly action against Fulton is unlikely. "My understanding is that the [ethics] committee's already looked at the matter and decided not to proceed further," he said.

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