Jury deliberating in Currie bribery trial sends note to judge

Jurors ask about the conspiracy charge against Sen. Ulysses S. Currie.
Jurors ask about the conspiracy charge against Sen. Ulysses S. Currie. (Baltimore Sun)

Jurors deliberating in the federal bribery trial of state Sen. Ulysses S. Currie and two former grocery chain executives sent a note to the judge Monday, indicating that at least some of them believe a conspiracy may have occurred, though not for the length of time alleged in the indictment.

The note read: "If we believe the conspiracy was not in effect in Dec. 2002 (or even Jan. 2003), but might have started at a later date [possibly as much as two years later], can we find any of the defendant's guilty on count one?"

Currie and his co-defendants William J. White and R. Kevin Small are accused of participating in an extortion scheme in which Currie was paid $246,000 in exchange for legislative favors beneficial to Shoppers Food Warehouse. The indictment against them claims the conspiracy, which is charged in the first count of the indictment, ran from approximately December 2002 through May 2008.

After consulting with attorneys, U.S. District Court Judge Richard D. Bennett, told jurors that the answer to their question, simply put, was "yes."

"The triers of fact may find that the starting date of a conspiracy begins any time in the time window alleged, so long as the time frame alleged places the defendant sufficiently on notice of the acts with which he is charged," Bennett said, reading from a statement agreed upon by the lawyers.

Defense attorneys argued that the answer should have been "no," claiming prosecutors alleged a particular timeline, and jurors either have to accept it or acquit. But Bennett rejected the contention.

Currie, a Prince George's County Democrat, is accused of selling his legislative influence to Shoppers. He signed a consulting agreement with the company in February 2003, which prosecutors say was a cover for the bribery and extortion scheme. Currie did not disclose his consulting relationship on financial disclosure forms or conflict of interest disclaimers.

An indictment filed against the three men claims that Currie, who also chaired the Senate budget committee, called officials together in 2003 to discuss changes to a Mondawmin Mall project that would help Shoppers. A year later, he's alleged to have pushed for the delay of new energy standards so the company had time to implement them inexpensively. In 2005, the year mentioned in the jury note, he's accused of forcing the development of legislation that allowed one Shoppers store to transfer a liquor license to another and then voting for the bill. Throughout that time period and beyond, Currie was paid a monthly salary by Shoppers of between $3,000 and $7,600, according to the indictment.

Jurors will continue deliberating Tuesday. They received the case late Thursday, after a six week trial. Monday was their second full day of deliberation.

They're weighing whether all three men are guilty of bribery and extortion charges, and whether Currie, 74, and White also lied to the FBI to cover up the scheme. The men face decades in prison if convicted on all counts.


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