State Sen. Ulysses S. Currie will have access to nearly 3 million documents now held by Shoppers Food Warehouse & Pharmacy as he mounts his defense against charges that he accepted a bribe of more than $245,0000 in return for using his legislative office to benefit the retailer.
U.S. District Judge Richard D. Bennett ordered the access Monday morning over objections from Shoppers’ lawyer that such a “fishing expedition” by the defense would cost the company hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Bennett said access to the documents is a matter of fundamental fairness to Currie and two former Shoppers executives also charged in the alleged bribery scheme. The prosecution alleges the illegal activity was conducted on the company’s behalf, Bennett added.
“The defendants are entitled to look through documents and decide” what is needed for their defense, Bennett told Shoppers’ lawyer, William C. Brennan Jr. “Your client might have to spend a lot of money.”
The ruling came before lunch in a motions hearing in U.S. District Court in Baltimore. The hearing is expected to resume at 2:00 with the key issue on the agenda: Currie’s motion to dismiss the remaining charges against him.
If the charges are not dismissed, Currie is scheduled to stand trial beginning Sept. 26 with co-defendants William J. White and R. Kevin Small, former Shoppers’ executives.
Bennett could rule on Currie’s motion to dismiss the charges as early as this afternoon.
Currie, a Prince George’s County Democrat, was indicted Sept. 1 on charges of bribery, conspiracy, mail fraud, extortion and making false statements to investigators. Federal prosecutors in May dropped all charges except for bribery and lying to investigators.
Bennett last 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 Smalls.
Under that agreement, Shoppers has supplied documents to the prosecution. On Monday, Bennett said Shoppers must also provide documents to the defense by Aug. 31.
“Your client has made the bed in which it now lies,” Bennett told Brennan, noting the agreement with the prosecution.
Brennan is with Brennan, Sullivan & McKenna LLP in Greenbelt.
In its case against Currie, the U.S. government alleges that between December 2002 and March 2008 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.