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Thursday, May 28, 2009

Del Davis testifies to grand jury in probe of Sen. Currie (Updated)

Lawmaker testifies in Currie probe; Grand jury continues look at influential state senator
Sun, 28 May 2009 (Smitherman & Dechter).
A top-ranking Maryland delegate testified Wednesday before a grand jury investigating state Sen. Ulysses Currie , a continuation of a federal probe into the senator's work as a consultant for the Shoppers Food and Pharmacy grocery store chain.

Del. Dereck E. Davis, chairman of the Economic Matters Committee, appeared before the federal grand jury in Baltimore, according to a source familiar with the matter. Davis, who had been questioned by the FBI in September, shares a district in Prince George's County with Currie. Both lawmakers are Democrats.

Federal authorities have been examining whether the Lanham-based supermarket company hired Currie to parlay the prestige of his office into favorable legislation and decisions by state agencies. Currie was paid more than $200,000 over a five-year period, according to a search warrant affidavit. The investigation came to light when the FBI raided the senator's home in May 2008.

Currie, chairman of the Budget and Taxation Committee, never disclosed his employment by Shoppers on General Assembly ethics forms.

Prosecutors' interest in Davis appears to stem from his role as chairman of the committee with purview over legislation that authorized the transfer of a liquor license from one Shoppers supermarket to another. The grand jury questions regarded circumstances surrounding that bill and any communication between the legislative offices of Davis and Currie, according to the source.

Reached by phone last night, Currie said he had "no idea" why Davis was called to the grand jury. "I would rather not comment," he said. The U.S. attorney's office also declined to comment.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, a Prince George's and Calvert County Democrat, said that Currie, a close friend, indicated in a conversation this week that Currie's lawyer was hopeful about the outcome of the case. "He said his counsel is very confident that it was not as serious as the federal government initially thought it might be," Miller said.

Currie voted in 2005 in favor of the legislation regarding the liquor license transfer, and according to an FBI affidavit, he was in frequent contact with Shoppers representatives and the chief liquor inspector for Prince George's County at a time when local approval of the transfer had drawn strong opposition.

Currie also intervened on Shoppers behalf when the supermarket was negotiating with the owner of West Baltimore's Mondawmin Mall, which received state subsidies as part of a multimillion-dollar redevelopment project. He also contacted transportation officials for traffic light installations, roadside improvements and other projects near the grocery chain's stores.

The senator has remained in his legislative leadership position despite the cloud of the investigation, playing a key role in difficult negotiations as the state struggled to balance its budget in the face of massive shortfalls. Miller has said the legislative ethics committee might look into the matter, but not until the federal investigation concludes.
Del. Davis Summoned Before Currie Grand Jury.
Maryland Moment, 28 May 2009 (Wagner).
A fellow state lawmaker from Prince George's County testified this week before a grand jury investigating Sen. Ulysses Currie, the latest public sign that a federal probe is continuing into the Democrat's work for a grocery store chain.

Del. Dereck Davis (D-Prince George's) confirmed in an interview that he was summoned to Baltimore on Wednesday for questions that focused on Currie's work for Shoppers Food and Pharmacy, which Currie did not include on financial disclosure forms until this year, after an FBI investigation became public.

Documents and interviews show that the Currie, chairman of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, intervened repeatedly with government agencies on issues of interest to Shoppers. Federal investigators have been scrutinizing a a decision by the Prince George's liquor board to allow Shoppers to transfer a beer and wine license from its store near Takoma Park to one in College Park. Currie had voted on legislation in 2005 that allowed the transfer to take place and later attended a lengthy liquor board hearing on the matter.

Davis and Currie represent the same Prince George's district, and Davis chairs the House Economic Matters Committee, which has jurisdiction over legislation affecting liquor licenses.

"Because of the committee's jurisdiction, they wanted to probe that whole situation, but there wasn't much for me to say," said Davis, who said he was also interviewed by the FBI in late September.

Davis's appearance before the grand jury, which he said lasted about an hour, was first reported by the Baltimore Sun.

Dale Kelberman, a lawyer for Currie, did not return a phone call this morning.

The federal investigation became public last May when FBI agents searched Currie's home and the corporate offices of the Lanham-based grocery chain.

According to court documents, Shoppers paid Currie more than $207,000 starting in 2003.

Others known to have testified to the grand jury about Currie include Franklin Jackson, the chairman of the Prince George's Board of Liquor License Commissioners, who appeared in January, and William G. Somerville, a lawyer who advises the General Assembly on ethics issues, who appeared last year.

(Posted 28 May 2009)

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