Maryland state senator Currie acquitted

BALTIMORE — A federal jury acquitted Maryland state Sen. Ulysses Currie on Tuesday in an influence peddling case against the prominent lawmaker, who was accused of accepting more than $245,000 in payments from a grocery store chain while he chaired a powerful budget committee.

Currie was charged with conspiracy, bribery, extortion and making false statements. He was acquitted of all charges. Former Shoppers Food Warehouse president William J. White and former vice president R. Kevin Small also were on trial with the senator in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, and they were also acquitted.

Currie, a 74-year-old sitting Democratic senator, had been the chairman of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, which steers billions of dollars in state spending. The senator became chairman in 2002, but he stepped down from the position after he was indicted last year. He has remained in office since the FBI raided his home in 2008 as part of the investigation.

Federal prosecutors contended that Currie formed a sham consulting arrangement between 2002 and 2008 with the grocery store chain as a cover to use his office to do government favors for Shoppers. They said Shoppers paid him more than $245,000 to work behind the scenes to arrange meetings with state officials and shepherd through legislation needed to switch a liquor license from one store to another.

Defense attorneys for all three men argued that Maryland has a part-time Legislature, meaning most lawmakers do additional work to earn money. They said there was nothing illegal or conspiratorial about the consulting work because others knew about it.

Throughout the trial, which began in September, state officials with whom Currie met testified that they did not know the senator was employed by Shoppers.

Prosecutors emphasized Currie’s failure to disclose the work in required state financial disclosure forms between 2003 and 2007. Defense attorneys explained the omissions by saying the senator’s financial disclosure forms have been a mess throughout his 25-year career in the Maryland General Assembly and were not unique to his work for Shoppers.

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