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Supreme Court ruling may limit Md. corruption probe

CSC_0231.JPGA decision today by the Supreme Court that restricts one of federal prosecutors' favorite tools for pursuing corrupt politicians and self-dealing corporate chiefs is creating a buzz in Annapolis. State lawyers and General Assembly staffers say it could undermine a potential federal case against Sen. Ulysses Currie, the powerful Prince George's Democrat who chairs the Senate's Budget and Taxation Committee.

The ruling, which The Post's Robert Barnes reports has cast doubt on the conviction of former Enron chief Jeffrey Skilling, passes judgment on a federal statute that makes it a crime to deprive the public or one's employer or shareholders of the "intangible right of honest services."

"Although a favorite of federal prosecutors -- it figures in the current trial of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich -- it has been roundly criticized as being so vague as to make it impossible to know what sorts of actions are illegal. Skilling said it should be struck as unconstitutional," Barnes writes.

In Annapolis, the statute is believed to be at the center of a years-long probe by federal authorities into Currie's work on behalf of Lanham-based Shoppers Food and Pharmacy. According to court documents, Shoppers paid Currie more than $207,000 starting in 2003, income he did not include on state financial disclosure forms. Documents and interviews show that Currie intervened repeatedly with state agencies on issues of interest to Shoppers.

Before a federal grand jury last year, investigators appeared to be scrutinizing a decision by the five-member 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.

The ruling may further cloud the feds' final decision on Currie -- the timing of which long ago became a stale parlor game in the State House. There has been little noticeable movement in the probe since one of the lead investigators transferred to another post last year.

Currie, meanwhile, is fundraising again and running for reelection.

By Aaron C. Davis  |  June 24, 2010; 2:12 PM ET
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