Reporting Derek Valcourt
BALTIMORE (WJZ) — There were opening arguments Tuesday in the federal corruption trial of a prominent Maryland politician accused of taking bribes from a grocery store chain.
Derek Valcourt outlines the case against Prince George’s County Democrat Ulysses Currie and his defense.
Jurors are being asked to consider if the senator took illegal bribes or if he simply failed to disclose his paid consulting work with the grocery chain.
Currie, 74, is saying little now but all along has professed his innocence to the bribery charges spelled out in court during opening arguments.
Federal prosecutors allege Currie was paid by grocery chain Shoppers Food in exchange for political favor.
“The evidence will establish beyond a reasonable doubt that Shoppers bought the power of a state senator,” said Kathleen Gavin, federal prosecutor. “He sold his power for almost a quarter-million dollars.”
Prosecutors claim between 2003 and 2008, Currie used that political power to influence a state deal at Mondawmin Mall that eventually benefitted Shoppers Food with a lower rent. They say his political maneuvering allowed Shoppers to transfer a liquor license from their Takoma Park store to their College Park location, that he helped the company in their efforts to get traffic lights near certain Shoppers stores, including one now-closed location on Reisterstown Road, and that he attempted, though failed, to get the millions in state grant money for a development project that would have benefitted Shoppers. Prosecutors say he did this without ever disclosing he was working as a paid consultant for the grocery chain.
But Currie’s defense attorneys argued while the senator may have failed to disclose a conflict of interest, he is not guilty of accepting bribes. They point out he did report his Shoppers income to the IRS and told staff, his colleagues and his attorneys about his paid consulting work for Shoppers.
“This was not a secret. There were no secret files in the safe. Not one dime of state of Maryland money went to Shoppers,” said Lucius Outlaw, Currie’s defense attorney. “Not only did he disclose every dime and dollar he got from Shoppers, he paid taxes on them. Shoppers did not buy his influence, did not buy his office, did not buy him.”
The case won’t be a slam dunk for the prosecution. Defense attorneys have long lists of potential witnesses to refute the federal prosecutor’s claims. The trial is expected to last six weeks.
Also on trial with Senator Currie, two executives with the grocery chain accused of paying the bribes to Currie.