Ehrlich takes stand for Currie in bribery trial

Former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. testified Wednesday on behalf of state Sen. Ulysses S. Currie, calling him "a gentleman" and "very friendly."

Ehrlich, a Republican, and Currie, a Democrat, were elected to the Maryland House of Delegates in 1986, a circumstance that Ehrlich said led to a lasting relationship. Ehrlich said he has "always found [Currie] to be a gentleman" and "somebody willing to work with us on most occasions."

The former governor was the first Republican on a lengthy list of Annapolis politicians to testify as character witnesses for Currie, who is facing bribery charges. Others who have testified in Currie's defense include Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, Rep. Steny H. Hoyer and state Sen. Brian E. Frosh.

Currie is accused of accepting a bribe in the guise of a consulting contract with Shoppers Food Warehouse, with prosecutors alleging that he traded legislative favors for $245,000 over a five-year period. Currie's defense attorneys say the senator did nothing improper by working for the grocery chain.

On the stand, Ehrlich was more circumspect than other character witnesses, putting some distance between himself and the defendant.

"In dealing with me ... he was very honest," Ehrlich said. He stressed that his budget director, James C. "Chip" DiPaula, had day-to-day interactions with Currie.

Ehrlich noted Currie's position in his party. "He was a trusted member of Democratic leadership," Ehrlich said.

Ehrlich said they had little contact from 1995 to 2003, while Ehrlich was in Congress. Upon his return to the State House as governor, Ehrlich said, he observed that Currie "had aged."

He told the jury that when he became governor, he needed alliances with people such as Currie.

"I was looking for friends," Ehrlich said. "They were in short supply at the time."

Defense attorneys tried to steer the former governor from talking about legislative clashes with Currie, asking him to "put politics aside." Ehrlich laughed and then quipped: "You are talking about Annapolis — you want me to put politics aside?"

On cross-examination, Assistant U.S. Attorney Kathleen O. Gavin asked a single question: Did Ehrlich know that Currie was working for Shoppers Food Warehouse?

"I did not," Ehrlich said.