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Currie bribery trial to open this week

ANNAPOLIS — Prominent Maryland Sen. Ulysses Currie will stand trial in federal court this week accused of taking bribes from two former executives of Shoppers Food Warehouse.

Currie, who served as chairman of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee before the accusations arose, has been charged with accepting over $245,000 in payments in exchange for using his influence in the state senate to shape legislation in Shoppers’ favor.

Shoppers hired Currie as a consultant for community relations and minority recruitment in 2003 and paid him until 2008. The indictment alleges that both Currie and Shoppers knew that the payments were made for Currie to take official actions in the legislature to benefit Shoppers.

“What happened is not unique to Currie,” said Matthew Crenson, a political science professor at the Johns Hopkins University. “Maryland politicians have been taking advantage of the system for a long time, a pay-to-play culture.”

The public was alerted to the investigation in 2008 when the FBI raided Currie’s home and the Shoppers headquarters in Lanham.

The indictment states that Currie failed to report his consulting position with Shoppers on financial disclosure forms. The indictment also states that Currie should have acknowledged a conflict of interest during votes that had to do with the grocery chain.

“It will be the end of his political career,” said Crenson “It will be like Jack Johnson and his wife.”

Johnson, the former Prince George’s County executive, pleaded guilty in May to extortion and conspiracy. His wife, former County Councilwoman Leslie Johnson, pleaded guilty in June to one count of conspiracy to commit evidence and witness tampering after flushing a $100,000 check down a toilet and stuffing $79,600 in her underwear to hide it from federal agents who were knocking on the door.

Todd Eberly, a professor of political science at St. Mary’s College, said the Currie case would be another blow to the image of Prince George’s County.

“This is one senator,” Eberly said, referring to Currie. “The greater damage will be to Prince George’s County. There’s a culture of corruption in P.G. County with an executive, council member and senator going to trial.”

Currie catalogued his dealings with Shoppers in a list titled “Accomplishments on Behalf of Shoppers,” which was cited in the indictment. He mentioned in the list that he was “in a unique position to help Shoppers in expanding its mission and increasing its bottom line,” and that he would “bring Shoppers many more opportunities,” according to the indictment.

Prosecutors charge Currie with delaying the implementation of environmental standards that applied to refrigeration and cooling units in order to minimize Shoppers’ construction and operational costs.

Currie is also charged with using his position to attempt to help Shoppers obtain a liquor license for one of its Prince George’s County locations, and to influence construction on roadways to Shoppers’ benefit.

Currie was elected to the Maryland General Assembly in 1987 and served until 1995. He was elected to the Senate in 1994. He became the chairman of the powerful Senate Budget and Taxation Committee in 2002.