ANNAPOLIS — The Maryland Senate unanimously voted Friday to censure a state senator who failed to disclose work for a grocery store chain that paid him about $245,000 over several years, the first such punishment issued by the chamber in 14 years.
As part of that work, Sen. Ulysses Currie arranged meetings with state and local officials in an effort to do favors for the company, such as install traffic lights near stores and transfer a liquor license.
The recommendation to censure Currie, D-Prince George’s, was made by the Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics. The panel determined Currie used his former position as chairman of the Budget and Taxation Committee for his own private gain and the gain of Shoppers Food Warehouse.
Sen. Norman Stone, who co-chairs the ethics committee, said Currie admitted his position allowed him to arrange meetings with state officials in ways unavailable to the general public.
“He also used the Senate office, committee letterhead, telephone, fax machine and office staff to conduct his professional business with Shoppers,” Stone, D-Baltimore County, said while addressing the Senate of the panel’s findings.
Currie, a well-liked senator, apologized to the Senate.
“I will not stand here and make excuses. I am a person with flaws and I do have weaknesses. I never intended to do anything that would bring dishonor to you, my wife or me,” Currie said before taking a short pause while addressing his colleagues from his seat in the front row of the Senate. “I am deeply sorry that I did so and promise that I will never do so again.”
The Senate voted 47-0 in favor of censure, without debate. It was the first time in 14 years the chamber disciplined one of its own.
“It’s very tough to sit in judgment of a colleague, a colleague who’s especially a friend to each and every one of us — a dear colleague — and I think the decision is fair and just and hopefully we’ll be able to move on,” Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, D-Calvert, said after the vote.
Before the vote, Stone outlined several ethics violations the ethics committee found.
In addition to failing to disclose the payments between 2003 and 2007, Currie voted on legislation narrowly drawn to benefit Shoppers. The measure approved in 2005 transferred a liquor license between two stores.
Stone also said Currie had a conflict of interest and did not file the right form of his required recusal from voting. Stone also said Currie organized and attended numerous meetings with Shoppers executives and various state and local government leaders. At the request of Shoppers executives, Currie contacted the administrator at the Maryland Energy Administration to request a delay of new standards for the Maryland Energy Efficiency Standards Act.
Still, the committee also determined that Currie’s conduct was not intentionally malicious or deceitful. Currie signed a contract, spoke about it to a General Assembly ethics adviser — although incompletely — and members of the public were aware of his work for the company, the report said.
“In using his office intentionally as described in this report Senator Currie has eroded the confidence and trust of the people and other governmental leaders who work with legislators, and has brought dishonor upon the institution,” the report said.
While Currie will remain on the Senate’s budget committee, he won’t regain his chairmanship. He stepped down from that position when he was indicted in federal court in 2010. Currie was acquitted of charges of conspiracy, bribery, extortion and making false statements in November after a trial that lasted about a month and a half. Jurors said after the verdict that while they believed there were concerns about questionable ethics and conflicts of interest, they didn’t believe a criminal case was proven.
The General Assembly’s ethics committee recommended to the Senate president that Currie not be allowed to serve on conference committees, which work out differences in legislation approved by the House and Senate. But Miller said he would still consider allowing Currie to serve on a conference committee.
“If it’s a matter involving his district or a subject matter which only he had unique knowledge of, you know, the members of the House or Senate would welcome him on a conference committee,” Miller said.
When asked whether the censure amounted to little more than a slap on the wrist, since Currie had already given up his chairmanship, Miller said the suggestion was “absolute nonsense.”
“The man was acquitted — had the whole might of the federal government come down on he and his family and he was acquitted,” Miller said.
The Senate has not voted on sanctions against a lawmaker since the 1998 expulsion of Baltimore Democrat Larry Young, who was accused of using his office to secure business from health care firms for his private corporations. Young was expelled on a 36-10 vote.