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Donovan Makes Statement As Jury Deliberates; Questions Remain Unanswered

by Hugh McQuaid | May 21, 2013 2:44pm
(11) Comments | Commenting has expired
Posted to: Congress, Courts, Ethics, Labor, Legal

Hugh McQuaid Photo

Chris Donovan speaks with reporters Tuesday outside federal court in New Haven.

(UPDATED 10 p.m.) NEW HAVEN — After staying out of the public eye for months, Chris Donovan re-emerged Tuesday outside a federal courthouse to reassert his innocence as a jury inside began to mull the fate of a former campaign aide accused of campaign finance corruption.

The former aide, Finance Director Robert Braddock Jr., was convicted by the jury later in the afternoon on all three counts after less than three hours of deliberation.

But Donovan has kept a low profile since losing the Democratic primary election last year in his bid for Connecticut’s 5th Congressional District seat. The former state House speaker’s campaign was enveloped in controversy after the federal government charged two members of his campaign, Braddock and Campaign Manager Joshua Nassi, with conspiring to hide the smoke shop owners as the source of $27,500 in donations to the campaign.

On Tuesday, Braddock’s case was handed over to a jury following a week-long trial. But before the jury retired to discuss Braddock’s fate, his lawyer, Frank Riccio II, sought to distinguish his client from Donovan and Connecticut’s political establishment. Court proceedings have been filled with secretly recorded phone conversations and wiretapped meetings involving Braddock and public officials. Among those were Donovan, House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, and House Majority Leader Joe Aresimowicz, each of whom were recorded interacting with Harry “Ray” Soucy, an often-vulgar former correction officer and union official.

Riccio told the jury that the trial seemed so focused on other personalities that, at times, he had to turn to his right and confirm that Braddock was still the defendant.

“This is not a trial about Chris Donovan or Larry Cafero or Joe Aresimowicz or anybody,” Riccio said, calling Braddock an “outsider” in state politics. “. . . This is not a referendum on the Connecticut political establishment.”

But the trial has, despite Riccio’s assertion, exposed some of the inner workings of the state’s political establishment. In that context, Donovan stood outside the federal courthouse on the trial’s final day to read a statement to reporters in an effort to clear his name. He did not take questions.

In his short statement, Donovan said he played no role in the plot outlined by the federal government in which Soucy and a group of tobacco shop owners attempted to bribe him and others in an effort to kill legislation that would impose taxes on their businesses.

“Whatever the jury decides in this case against Rob Braddock, I stand here to confirm what I told you a year ago: my vote was never for sale and I was not involved in Ray Soucy’s conduit contribution scheme,” Donovan said.

During the trial the government offered evidence of Braddock in communication with Soucy and others who have entered guilty pleas in relation to the investigation. Evidence also included a phone call between Donovan and Soucy, as well as a video of the two meeting on the night of last year’s Democratic Party nominating convention. In that video, Donovan tells Soucy he “took care of” him. On Tuesday, Donovan acknowledged the statement “did sound bad.”

“I said, ‘I took care of you.’ When somebody wins, you say, ‘I took care of you.’ When somebody loses, you say, ‘Sorry it didn’t work out.’ That’s just how we talk. Now, the government obviously thought that sounded bad. When I saw the tape, it did sound bad. The way it sounded is not what I meant,” he said.

Donovan characterized his experience as a “cautionary tale” and said the same thing could happen to anyone running for office who needs to raise money. He said his “reputation has taken a beating,” but he would continue to work for cleaner elections.

However, it’s clear from the videotaped conversation at the convention that Donovan was made aware of the donations from Soucy, who can be heard discussing dollar amounts and thanking Donovan for killing the bill. Donovan denies he killed the bill — the legislation never made it out of the Senate. On the video Donovan is heard saying, “I didn’t kill the bill I worked on the legislative side. I did what’s right” as he walks away.

But there is no evidence to suggest that Donovan told his campaign staff to return the money Soucy had mentioned or to cease communicating with Soucy or to cease accepting money from him despite his having informed Donovan that he planned to donate more money on that basis. Moments later as the video continues, Soucy is shown handing more checks to Nassi, who has since pleaded guilty to related charges.

Also unclear is what Donovan did “on the legislative side” with respect to the bill, or if he lobbied members of the Senate not to pass the bill and send it on to the House. A spokesman for the Senate Democrats last year said Donovan never communicated with Sen. President Donald Williams or Sen. Majority Leader Martin Looney regarding the bill.

Donovan has not be charged in relation to the investigation, and neither have Cafero or Aresimowicz.

Aresimonwicz’s name came up after he was recorded in a conversation with Soucy on Dec. 23, 2011. During that call, Soucy informs him that Donovan received $10,000 from the smoke shop owners. Then, on April 3, 2012, Aresimowicz informs Soucy by text message that there’s activity on the roll-your-own tobacco bill. Several texts are exchanged and Soucy lets him know another group of checks totaling $5,000 had been set up for Nassi, to which Arisimowicz replies: “Then we will fix it when Chris let’s me know.” Soucy then suggests that he’ll arrange for another $10,000 in donations.

Cafero — the House Minority Leader with aspirations of a gubernatorial run — is captured on video speaking with Soucy and Norwalk smoke shop investor Patrick Castagna. Cafero appears to be aware that they are attempting to make a donation, and rather than accept an envelope inside the Legislative Office Building, Cafero instructs a subordinate to punch out and take a walk with Soucy where the transaction took place.

Cafero has said he thought the money was related to Soucy’s role with the Correction Department, but there’s no discussion of issues related to the Correction Department in the video. There is discussion of their business and Cafero suggests that he might be a “future customer.”

Based on evidence presented during Braddock’s trial, both Donovan and Aresimowicz appear to have become aware of what were likely straw donations and failed to stop them or notify authorities. Cafero appears to have ignored suspicious circumstances in accepting donations that were converted from cash to checks, and then also failed to notify authorities.

In his final appeal to the jury, Riccio tried put some distance between Braddock and Donovan’s reputation. He said people want to see the “political establishment” held accountable for corruption, but he suggested that Braddock was unaware of the violations.

Riccio said the federal government’s case against Braddock was built on a “cracked foundation” made up of the testimony of admitted co-conspirators and felons. He pointed to Soucy, to whom he has referred to as “diabolical,” and Paul Rogers, a smoke shop owner who also has pleaded guilty.

“The government is trying to sell you a house. The foundation of this house is not as sound as it seems to be,” he told the jury.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric Glover said the government’s case was “absolutely solid.” He said in most cases, the government wasn’t asking the jury to believe any testimony from Soucy or Rogers that was not corroborated by other witnesses.

And while Riccio suggested some of Braddock’s interactions with Soucy were colored by Braddock’s desire to get away from the former correction officer, Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Mattei pointed to recordings in which the two men seemed to be interacting comfortably. Mattei displayed a video captured secretly by Soucy in which Braddock tells Soucy he can always make time for him.

“‘I always have time for Mr. Soucy?’ Think about that when attorney Riccio comes up here later and tells you how desperately [Braddock] wanted to get rid of Mr. Soucy. How Soucy made [Braddock’s] skin crawl,” Mattei said.

In his closing arguments, Mattei quickly recapped the government’s case, pointing to recordings played earlier in the trial and stressing instances where Braddock was present. As he had at the beginning of the trial, he said the federal campaign finance laws exist for a reason.

“In order to have fair, clean, transparent election, you can’t have some invisible hand directing money to the candidate,” Mattei said, adding that the government had presented “evidence of an all out effort by Mr. Braddock and others to do just that.”

Mattei said in the process of conspiring to funnel false donations to the Donovan campaign, Braddock and others had deprived Connecticut residents of the right to know who was funding their political candidates.

“It didn’t matter to them. But it matters,” Mattei said.

Braddock, 34, was found guilty of conspiring to make false statements to the Federal Elections Commission, accepting more than $10,000 in federal campaign contributions made by persons in the names of others, and causing false reports to be filed with the FEC.

The charges carry a maximum of 12 years in prison and each count carries a $250,000 fine. Braddock is scheduled to be sentenced Aug. 13.

Riccio said he was disappointed by the verdict and surprised by the length of the jury’s deliberation. He said his options going forward include an appeal and filing post-trial motions.

He maintained that it was “almost certain” that Braddock was convicted based on his association with others.

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(11) Comments

posted by: lkulmann | May 21, 2013  10:15pm

Singing…the wheels on the bus go round and round, round and round….’ .    ((bump)) ...round and round….

posted by: dano860 | May 22, 2013  7:05am

He didn’t waste any time throwing Braddock under those wheels did he?

“I said, ‘I took care of you.’ When somebody wins, you say, ‘I took care of you.’ When somebody loses, you say, ‘Sorry it didn’t work out.’ That’s just how we talk. Now, the government obviously thought that sounded bad. When I saw the tape, it did sound bad. The way it sounded is not what I meant,” he said.

If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck it is probably a DUCK.  The way it sounded is more than likely what he meant. He had to have known what was going on, there were no other issues that could have been confused with this piece of legislation.

posted by: CT Jim | May 22, 2013  10:21am

So dano. 860 under what your saying then the guy with $5,000 in the fridge knew what was going on too. Yes???

posted by: Just another CT resident | May 22, 2013  10:52am

What’s that old saying about the company one keeps?
Sorry Chris but I find it hard to believe that you didn’t know what your people were doing.
It just shows the CT voters what kind of people you surround yourself with.

posted by: dano860 | May 22, 2013  12:52pm

@ CT Jim, YES!

I said exactly that about two months ago and still maintain that belief.
Donovan is a poor manager.

posted by: CT Jim | May 22, 2013  4:31pm

To think that you can be a full time candidate for the US congress and be the speaker of the house was probably a impossible situation to handle effectively and may have even been unwise to try. But it’s not criminal. I understand the desire to throw Donovan under the bus but there is nothing criminal there.

posted by: CT Jim | May 22, 2013  4:35pm

The real sleazeball here was Soucy it seems like everything slimy started and ended with him yet he was a star witness??? He was willing to ruin peoples lives to save his useless butt. This guy even put his 85 year old mother in harms way. I’m sure he’ll be seeing some time at a Club Fed somewhere in this country and deservedly so.

posted by: CT Jim | May 22, 2013  6:05pm

Dano, I never saw any post from you about anybody else but Donovan. I also noticed you praised Scott Walker as some sort of hero. You do know he is under investigation for more than this and he had people working in his office who have gone to jail. I’m assuming your fine with that right ????

posted by: dano860 | May 23, 2013  9:36am

CT Jim, I don’t condone criminal activity by anyone, most certainly from those that we elect to represent us. Take a look at the Wikipedia list of states and crooks, “List of American state and local politicians convicted of crimes”. Notice it says ‘convicted’. There are no ‘implicated’ people listed or considered guilty until that has been proven. The Rinefleisch complaint was filed in April 2010 and apparently still ongoing.
I maintain (my gut belief) that Donovan knew something and creatively danced around implicating himself. I didn’t say he is stupid!
I also believe that this investigation is over for him, he skated again.
My desire to have a Scott Walker elected to the governor position in CT isn’t because of him, it’s his ideas and policies.
Penny Bacchiochi says it best ,“When Governor Walker first took office, he faced a tough environment, much like the one we have in Connecticut today. Enormous state budget deficits, a Democrat-controlled legislature and a powerful union lobby were holding economic recovery back. Walker went on to balance the state budget without raising taxes. He stood up to the unions. He even survived a recall effort. And he helped Republicans regain the majority in the legislature.” That is a paragraph from an email I received from her this morning.
As a person that was involved in the IAM Union at P&W I know that the main job of the Union leadership is to increase or maintain members. Members are numbers only, they (the leaders) front them as strength for gain but the fact is that the numbers are reflected in the leaders paycheck. If represented numbers was ‘strength’ then our elected representatives would have ALL the strength.
It’s time to start outsourcing many of the functions that they believe the State has to have their fingers in.
Prisons are run as business’s in some states, we use contract snowplow trucks to augment the ‘Orange Trucks’ now. Lets do the same as Massachusetts, contract certain highways and roads out to the private sector. DMV doesn’t have to be operated by State employees. There are many more that can be contracted too.
Even if we paid a higher cost for these contract services, we don’t pay their Social Security or benefits, including their pensions.
Pop the balloon your’e floating around in and really begin to find ways to cut costs.

posted by: CT Jim | May 23, 2013  1:50pm

Dano, your thought on labor unions is false and shows your lack of education. I notice you mentioned Massachusetts and the privatization of the DOT. What you failed to mention is that it was a colossal failure which cost the tax payers billions of dollars and ended up costing most of the transportation big wigs their jobs. As for prisons for profit that is just plain cruel and focuses on taking away people’s rights in order to incarcerate them. What kind of libertarian are you. In the state of Arizona the largest lobbying group is the one that represents the prisons for profits people they lobby for longer jail sentences and mandatory minimums. That sounds good to you??? I believe you may have some self esteem issues and you’d rather see everybody suffer than all rise.

posted by: dano860 | May 23, 2013  7:08pm

CT Jim, the only things rising in this state are the taxes, hand outs and your ire.
Good Bye