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U.S. ordered to reveal identities of Currie’s unindicted co-conspirators

Federal prosecutors must hand over the names of state Sen. Ulysses S. Currie’s unindicted co-conspirators to the defense team in his bribery case, a judge said Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore.

Judge Richard D. Bennett called the disclosures a matter of “fundamental fairness” as the veteran lawmaker prepares a motion to dismiss the influence-peddling charges against him.

Bennett agreed to the prosecution’s request that the names be provided “under seal,” meaning they cannot be publicly disclosed.

The judge did not specify a date for the disclosures, indicating instead that an order would be issued soon. The motion to dismiss is scheduled to be heard on July 25.

Currie, a Prince George’s Democrat, is accused of accepting more than $245,000 from Shoppers Food Warehouse & Pharmacy in return for using his legislative office to benefit the retailer. Barring dismissal of the charges, Currie will stand trial beginning Sept. 26 with co-defendants William J. White and R. Kevin Small, former Shoppers’ executives.

Currie was indicted Sept. 1 on charges of bribery, conspiracy, mail fraud and extortion. The federal indictment of the three men states they were involved in a conspiracy with “others both known and unknown.”

Seizing on that phrase, Currie’s lead counsel urged Bennett to order prosecutors to disclose the names of the “known” co-conspirators, calling the identity of those individuals “of supreme importance” to the defense.

“We should know who it is the government alleges was in this conspiracy,” said Joseph L. Evans, an assistant federal public defender. “This isn’t just an academic exercise.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Leo J. Wise countered, in vain, that Currie and his two co-defendants understand the charges against them and can prepare a defense without knowing the names.

Bennett, though, said disclosing the names for the first time at trial would result in “unfair surprise” and prevent Currie’s attorneys from mounting an effective defense.

“One is entitled to know what the nature of the conspiracy is,” Bennett added.

Bennett also wondered aloud why the prosecution seemed so unwilling to disclose the names to the defense.

“What is the great mystery about who the known co-conspirators are?” Bennett said. “Why is there a deep, dark secret about it?”

Bennett accepted Wise’s request that the names be provided to the defense under seal because the individuals have not been charged. The judge called the request “a perfectly logical step to take.”

Detailed indictment

In a victory for the prosecution, Bennett rejected Evans request’ that the prosecutors spell out exactly which legislative functions and official duties Shoppers’ executives allegedly sought to influence with payments to Currie.

Bennett said the indictment provides enough details linking Currie’s legislative and office duties to his alleged acts on Shoppers’ behalf to put the senator on sufficient notice regarding the specific charges against him, including bribery.

“I think the indictment is very well detailed,” Bennett said. “It’s not that complicated what the [prosecution’s] legal theory is.”

Between December 2002 and March 2008, the prosecution says, Currie used his office as senator to assist Shoppers in return for payments totaling $245,816,

His actions included helping to secure the state’s assistance in Shoppers’ rent payments for its Mondawmin Mall store in Baltimore; introducing and voting for legislation to help Shoppers get a beer and wine license; and assisting Shoppers’ outlets in getting rights of way from the state highway authority, according to the indictment.

Currie won re-election to his fifth term in the Senate last fall, despite the cloud of a federal indictment. However, he stepped down as chairman of the influential Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, a position he had held since 2002.

The judge in September approved a deal under which SuperValu Inc., the Minnesota-based parent company of Shoppers, agreed to pay a $2.5 million fine and cooperate in the prosecution of Currie, White and Small.

In a separate case, Currie’s former campaign treasurer was sentenced on Monday to one year in jail for stealing more than $150,000 from the senator’s campaign. Olivia Harris, who pleaded guilty in February to the theft scheme, was also ordered by the Anne Arundel County Circuit Court to pay restitution.

The Office of the State Prosecutor, which handled the Harris case, said Currie did not know of her scheme.