Pottsville Man Guilty Of Illegal Donations James J. Curran Jr., A Coal Company Owner, Said He Would Appeal.

Posted: December 03, 1992

EASTON, Pa. — A Pottsville coal company owner was convicted yesterday of making thousands of dollars in illegal campaign contributions to congressmen and senators.

A U.S. District Court jury took two hours to convict James J. Curran Jr., 52, of conspiracy and other offenses in connection with a long-running scheme to make disguised campaign contributions to candidates for federal office. Curran said after the verdict that he would appeal. Bail was set at $50,000.

Testifying in his own defense earlier yesterday, the former president of Reading Anthracite Co. said that he made the contributions to get Congress to protect a multimillion-dollar Defense Department coal-purchase program. He said the program under which the department bought Pennsylvania coal to heat military bases in Europe was "absolutely imperative" to the anthracite industry and had to be fought for every year in Congress.

Curran, a lawyer and a former member of the state panel that supervises lawyers' ethics, tesified that he had not realized he had been violating the law. He was deposed as the head of Reading Anthracite in 1990, but owns other coal companies.

He was convicted of making $12,100 in disguised campaign contributions to congressmen and senators between 1984 and 1987. Court documents filed by federal prosecutors allege that in addition to the money that went to federal candidates, Curran made $29,000 in disguised contributions to state candidates, including $22,000 to Gov. Casey's campaign committee. He was not charged in connection with those contributions.

Curran testified that he had given the disguised contributions to the Casey committee, but he said he was not trying to obtain influence.

"As everybody knows, making contributions to Bob Casey doesn't buy favors," Curran testified. "I was buying good government."

An angry Gov. Casey told reporters in Harrisburg yesterday that no laws had been broken by his campaign committee.

"As far as we knew, they (the contributions) were legal. You got that? You got that straight," Casey snapped at a reporter who questioned him on the subject.

"We take great pains to follow the campaign laws in Pennsylvania, but I mean great pains," Casey said.

Vincent Carocci, Casey's press secretary, said later in the day that in light of Curran's testimony, "the money will be returned - any contribution that was improper will be returned."

Curran testified that he did not believe his actions were illegal. He said he routinely got lists of congressmen from Michael Clark, an anthracite industry lobbyist in Washington.

"We all would make contributions on his recommendation," Curran said.

He said he would give cash to Reading Anthracite employees and take their personal checks in return so that the campaign finance records would show that the employees had given the money. Curran testified that he kept the cash in a ''little black box behind my desk."

According to the indictment, Curran gave disguised contributions to U.S. Sens. Jay Rockefeller (D., W.Va.) and Arlen Specter (R., Pa.); to U.S. Rep. Joseph P. McDade (R., Pa.), U.S. Rep. John Murtha (D., Pa.), the late U.S. Rep. Joseph Addabbo (D., N.Y.), the 1986 senatorial campaign of former U.S. Rep. Bob Edgar (D., Pa.) and the 1988 presidential campaign of House Majority Leader Richard Gephardt.

Under questioning by Assistant U.S. Attorney William Carr, Curran testified that he had concealed the source of the money because "I didn't want to be known as someone who was giving large amounts of money. I just didn't want that reputation."

Under further questioning, he acknowledged making about $15,000 in campaign contributions in his own name during the period.

In his closing argument, Carr stressed that Curran always reimbursed his employees in cash. Carr suggested that was because Curran did not want any record of the transactions.

"You can't have a doubt that this man knew that there was something hideously wrong with disguising contributions," Carr said.

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