Annapolis lobbyist's 1994 convictions stand, federal judge says

Annapolis lobbyist Bruce C. Bereano is appealing a federal judge's decision to uphold his 1994 fraud convictions, according to court records.

Bereano will be taking his case — based on an argument from the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court's decision in an appeal of the case against former Enron president Jeffrey Skilling — to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, his attorneys wrote in a court filing Thursday.

A federal jury convicted Bereano on eight counts, though one was later dismissed, of mail fraud that stemmed from the funneling of illegal campaign contributions to Maryland politicians. He encouraged employees of his law firm to make contributions to politicians, reimbursing them for the donations with law firm checks, according to a court document last week.

The reimbursements were then "pro-rated among Bereano's clients' bills under the heading of 'legislative entertainment,'" according to U.S. District Judge William M. Nickerson's opinion Tuesday denying Bereano's petition to vacate the 1994 convictions. The firm's clients had never authorized such charges.

Bereano was sentenced to five months of incarceration and five months of home detention and stripped of his license to practice law.

In April 2011, Bereano asked that the court vacate his convictions.

The jury members in his case were told they "could find guilt based on the existence of a scheme to defraud the lobbying clients of money or property … or of a scheme to defraud them of the intangible right to honest services," according to Nickerson, though the jurors did not specify which of the two theories they were using to convict him.

In 2010, in Skilling's case, the U.S. high court said that "honest services" are "confined to only bribery and kickback schemes," neither of which were alleged against Bereano.

Bereano believes that because the U.S. attorney's office based its case, in part, on the "honest services" provision, the fraud convictions should be vacated. Nickerson did not agree.

"[T]he Court concludes that it is clear beyond a reasonable doubt that the jury would still have found Bereano guilty if the honest services [jury] instruction had not been given," Nickerson wrote.

In other words, the jury would have still found Bereano guilty of "a scheme to defraud the lobbying clients of money or property," according to the court.

In 2003, the State Ethics Commission imposed a $5,000 fine and 10-month lobbying suspension on Bereano for illegally entering into a contingency fee agreement with a client that was attempting to get a contract with the state for foster-care services.

Reached by phone Saturday evening, Bereano said he did not have a comment on the case.

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