ANNAPOLIS – After being confined to his Duke of Gloucester Street office for the 1999 session, lobbyist Bruce C. Bereano is itching to get back to the halls of power on State Circle come January.
Bereano, who was forbidden to tread the Statehouse corridors as part of his 1994 federal mail fraud conviction, now is out to show he hasn’t lost the spark that made him the first Annapolis lobbyist to earn $1 million in a year in 1989.
“I’ve tried to even work harder to prove to myself and to prove to others my abilities and my competence and my worth,” Bereano said. “Others may not realize that you haven’t lost your focus…and that you can still do the job and do the job with respect and credibility.”
Last year, Bereano lost his law license for the District of Columbia. Now the Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County is deciding whether Bereano can continue practicing law in Maryland. Whatever the decision is, he said it will not affect his lobbying practice.
“They’re two separate matters,” Bereano said, adding that a law license is not required for lobbying. “My lobbying clients know that…. One has nothing to do with the other.”
After serving five months in a halfway house and five months of electronically monitored home detention for his conviction, Bereano says he is “rejuvenated.” While he still maintains his innocence, he said he has accepted his conviction and holds no bad feelings toward the federal prosecutors.
The lobbyist does, however, have a theory about why he was pursued by the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
“It was very evident to me…that the folks in the U.S. Attorney’s Office were anxious to knock me down as a lobbyist,” Bereano said. “They thought I was too powerful.”
Prosecutors investigated tax fraud, money laundering, bribery and extortion, Bereano said, but the indictment finally was made on $600 from clients that prosecutors said he misused. Those same clients later testified on his behalf.
“It was unfair because it was an absolute unfettered, limitless use of resources and power and authority of federal prosecutors,” Bereano said. “I’ve accepted it,” he said. “I’m not bitter about it.”
The ability to forgive stems from Bereano’s positive outlook on life. He said he has no complaints because he has kept everything in context and has been “very, very blessed” in other areas of his life.
Born in New York City and raised in the Bronx, N.Y., Bereano attended George Washington University in Washington for both undergraduate and law school. While in his last year of undergraduate work, Bereano was an aide to U.S. senators Robert F. Kennedy, D-N.Y., and Joseph D. Tydings, D-Md.
In 1970, Bereano came to Annapolis to help revise state laws. That led to a position as Maryland Senate counsel and legislative assistant to then- Senate President William S. James, D-Harford, and his successor, then-Sen. Steny H. Hoyer, D-Prince George’s. Bereano left the Statehouse in 1978 and opened a law practice in Annapolis.
Through his work in the Legislature, Bereano said he “fell in love with the legislative process.”
Because of his contacts and familiarity with the system, several people and companies asked to employ him as a lobbyist.
“I had no initial intention of becoming a lobbyist at all,” Bereano said. “I looked upon it as an extension (of) practicing law…Instead of a jury in a box, the jury was committee members.”
Bereano has a passion for his work and says that, after 20 years of lobbying, he has not lost enthusiasm for his job. He said his strengths come from his commitment to helping people.
However, Bereano is not ashamed of or reluctant to admit his foibles: sometimes too aggressive and controlling. Others have called him arrogant, something Bereano said he tries to avoid because it is a “terrible characteristic.”
Bereano’s friends and colleagues brim with praise for the lawyer and lobbyist. They characterize him as loyal, trustworthy and ethical.
“I don’t know any person who is more dedicated to whoever he represents,” said former Gov. Marvin Mandel. “He was always totally sincere in his efforts.”
Mandel was among those who defended Bereano at a September Maryland disbarrment hearing. Hoyer and Washington Superior Court Judge Richard Levie, a former law school classmate and former law partner, also were among Bereano’s defenders.
Bereano is “one of the most ethical people I know,” said lobbyist J. William Pitcher, a former president of the Maryland Government Relations Association, a lobbyist organization.
One client called Bereano “extremely effective.” Jim Barron, president of Ronkin Construction Inc. of Joppa, said he keeps clients apprised and always looks out for their best interests.
Bereano is also very giving, having done pro bono work for the Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts, said Linnell Bowen, executive director of Maryland Hall.
Bereano’s conviction and sentence have changed his life, Bowen said.
“He’s not out on the streets, we don’t see him in the restaurants, he’s not out and about,” Bowen said. “Annapolis is a little town. Everybody knows everybody. That, of course makes his trauma and difficulties a little different.”
The mail fraud case and its ramifications have been “life-altering,” Bereano said. After having lost friends, loved ones and clients, Bereano still suffers some financial difficulties.
His legal troubles “kind of called out all of my relationships, which is wonderful, because you find out who cares about you and who’s important in your life,” Bereano said. “You learn that good comes out of bad.”
Living in a halfway house gave Bereano the chance to help other people living there, he said, by giving free legal advice, notarizing papers and teaching people how to knot ties.
“You know, young kids coming out of prison – never made a tie in their life – have to go off to work (and) they need to know how to make a tie,” he said. It’s “a very important, kind of psychological thing to them.”
Strolling the halls of the Statehouse is as powerful a symbol to Bereano as knotting ties was to his housemates.
Not being able to lobby in the Statehouse last session “drove me out of my mind,” he said. It cost him clients, who he said were taken by other lobbyists. Like his prosecutors, he bears his ex-clients no ill will.
“I don’t get mad, I don’t get even. I don’t want to waste my time,” he said. “You just know to take them out of your Rolodex.”