Former Gov. Robert Ehrlich became the latest Maryland politician to testify in the federal corruption case against state Sen. Ulysses Currie on Wednesday, describing the senator as a friend and a gentleman in the years he has known him.
“I have known Uly for 25 years and always found him to be a gentleman,” Ehrlich said, using the senator’s nickname.
Currie, a Prince George’s County Democrat, is charged with using his former position as chairman of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee to benefit the Shoppers Food Warehouse supermarket chain. He was paid more than $245,000 by Shoppers between 2003 and 2007. Prosecutors claim that the payments were bribes and extortion for his help with a variety of issues ranging from the placement of traffic lights at stores to seeking state money to help with road improvements. But Currie’s defense contends he only worked as a consultant and did nothing illegal.
Ehrlich, who went on to be a U.S. congressman after his stint in the General Assembly and became governor in 2003, said his staff had a good working relationship with Currie when he was governor. However, he said it was Chip Depaula, his chief of staff during his administration, who had more daily interaction with the senator.
“I don’t know,” Ehrlich responded, when asked by Currie’s defense attorney if the senator was a good chairman.
Ehrlich, who was the first Republican governor in Maryland since Spiro Agnew more than 30 years before him, added that Currie was trusted by the Democratic leadership in the General Assembly, and he noted that the senator “acquiesced” when the Democratic leadership “wanted to jerk my chain.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Kathleen Gavin only asked Ehrlich one question — whether he knew Currie was working for Shoppers.
“I did not,” Ehrlich replied.
Ehrlich, whose testimony was brief, is one of a series of prominent Maryland politicians who have been called by the defense to testify on Currie’s behalf. Rep. Steny Hoyer, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown and Rep. Elijah Cummings also have testified.
Ehrlich told reporters in a brief interview after he testified that he had been subpoenaed. Ehrlich also said he had no knowledge of the facts of the case against Currie.
During the trial, which is in its fifth week in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, prosecutors have focused on the fact that Currie never disclosed the payments from Shoppers on his financial disclosure forms. Currie’s lawyers, however, have pointed out that the senator’s filings have been a long series of messes throughout his political career, not just specifically with the payments from Shoppers, which the senator reported in his income taxes.
Robert Hahn, who retired earlier this month as executive director of the State Ethics Commission, testified Wednesday about Currie’s numerous late filings dating back to 1986. The commission sent Currie complaints about his failure to file forms and fined him $350 in 1995. Defense attorneys also have pointed out that Currie never disclosed his wife’s income on the forms, either.
Currie’s wife, Shirley, is scheduled to testify on Thursday.
Currie is on trial for conspiracy, bribery, extortion and false statement charges. Former Shoppers executives, including former President William J. White and former Vice President for Real Estate Development R. Kevin Small, also are on trial in the alleged scheme.