U.S. Rep. Steny H. Hoyer on Tuesday portrayed state Sen. Ulysses S. Currie, his friend of 30 years, as a man whose integrity and compassion far outweigh his organizational skills and attention to detail.
“I don’t think organization is his strong point,” Hoyer said in testifying at Currie’s federal bribery trial in U.S. District Court in Baltimore. “He is very focused on people and doing his job.”
Hoyer’s testimony for the defense came as Currie’s lawyers try to combat the U.S. government’s claim that he illegally used his office as senator and chairman of the state Senate Budget and Taxation Committee to benefit Shoppers Food Warehouse Corp., a company that paid him $245,816 between December 2002 and May 2008.
Federal prosecutors claim Currie, a Prince George’s County Democrat, hid his relationship with Shoppers as he met with leaders of the state highway agency, whose proposed budget went through Currie’s committee.
Hoyer, under questioning from defense attorney Joseph L. Evans, called Currie a “decent, honest person of integrity” whose failure to disclose — if any occurred — would have been careless rather than intentional.
“He did not pay attention to details but he did pay attention to people,” said Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat and House minority whip. “I can rely on his word.”
Under cross-examination by Assistant U.S. Attorney Kathleen O. Gavin, Hoyer acknowledged Currie holds a powerful legislative position that involves attention to details. Gavin also asked Hoyer if he regards Currie as a competent legislator.
“I believe he is,” Hoyer responded.
A day earlier, former state delegate Timothy Maloney described Currie as “not very astute” about the mechanics of legislating. “No one would call him smart,” Maloney testified, adding that what his friend and former colleague “did do well is bring people together.”
The government has charged Currie with bribery, conspiracy, extortion and making a false statement to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Currie faces up to 35 years in prison if convicted of all charges.
Currie’s attorneys have said he did not abuse his Senate influence but met with agency leaders as a private citizen employed by Shoppers as a consultant.
The defense also challenges the claim that Currie deliberately misled FBI agents. Prosecutors allege that during questioning on May 29, 2008, Currie failed to disclose his Shoppers connection and told the agents he merely voted for legislation to help Shoppers get a beer and wine license for a College Park store. Currie actually secured passage of the law, the government alleges.
If Currie did make false statements to the FBI, his lawyers say, they were unintentional and the result of medication he was taking for prostate cancer at the time.
Side effects of the medication, Lupron, include forgetfulness and trouble focusing, according to Currie’s treating urologist, Michael J. Naslund, who heads the urology division at the University of Maryland Medical Center.
Before the jury was seated Tuesday morning, prosecutors urged Judge Richard D. Bennett to bar Naslund from testifying.
The prosecution argued that a urologist is not qualified to testify about Lupron’s possible effects on mental health.
But Bennett said Naslund, a prostate cancer specialist who has treated many patients with Lupron, could testify about the drug’s potential side effects and his observation that Currie appeared to be mentally “fuzzy” during a medical visit on Feb. 8, 2008.
Also on Tuesday, La Plata accountant Thomas J. “Tim” Murphy testified that the Curries never hid the income from Shoppers on their federal tax returns.
Murphy said he prepared the federal returns for Currie and his wife for the tax years 2005 through 2009.
Each year, the Curries gave him a 1099 tax reporting form from Shoppers and each year, Murphy said, he submitted the 1099 with the couple’s federal tax return.
“There was no secret,” Murphy said.
Currie is standing trial with former Shoppers’ President William J. White and R. Kevin Small, the company’s former vice president of construction. The men are accused of having bribed the lawmaker.
The trial, in its fourth week, is expected to last at least two more weeks.
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 Budget and Taxation Committee, a position he had held since 2002.
Currie served in the House of Delegates from 1987 to 1995, the year he joined the Senate.