Feds OK Release Of Subpoena in Roll-Your-Own Tobacco Investigation
Legislative leaders released copies Friday of the federal subpoena they received last fall when the federal government came knocking during its investigation of a pay-to-play scheme involving former House Speaker Chris Donovan’s failed congressional bid and roll-your-own tobacco legislation. Eight individuals were charged with crimes in relation to the investigation.
The Office of Legislative Management had been encouraged by the feds until Friday to keep the subpoena confidential since the information included could have jeopardized the federal investigation.
Specifically, the U.S. Attorney’s office asked the legislature “not disclose, directly or indirectly” the fact that it had received any subpoena or their responses to the the same because “disclosure may interfere with the investigation.”
News organizations and others sent several Freedom of Information requests to legislative leaders, so House Speaker Brendan Sharkey wrote U.S. Attorney David Fein on Feb. 26 to ask if the subpoena could be released. On Thursday, Sharkey’s attorneys received a response from Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Mattei indicating that releasing the subpoena would no longer interfere with the investigation.
“At that time, the risk posed by disclosure was substantial,” Mattei wrote. “As a witness, the Committee was not required to comply with our request. At this time, it now appears unlikely that disclosure of copies of the subpoenas themselves would interfere with this office’s investigation, provided that disclosure is limited solely to copies of the subpoenas.”
The information sought through the subpoena has not been disclosed.
But Mattei reminded lawmakers that they don’t necessarily have to abide by that request. Sharkey said the Office of Legislative Management is defending itself against a Freedom of Information complaint.
“As has always been the case, the Committee is not required to comply with this office’s request,” Mattei said.
Mattei and other federal prosecutors asked lawmakers and their staff to turn over documents last fall related to the roll-your-own tobacco legislation. Owners of roll-your-own tobacco stores sought to defeat legislation by giving $27,500 in conduit contributions to Donovan’s congressional campaign. The legislation was pending before the legislature at the same time that Donovan was running for Congress and also serving as Speaker of the House. A second subpoena asked for documents from House Democratic staffers Cara Passaro, Gary Turco, and Richard Baltimore related to Senate Bill 25, a bonding bill, and Senate Bill 357, which was the tobacco legislation.
Donovan’s former campaign manager and finance director were arrested months before the Democratic primary in August.
The federal grand jury subpoena sought volumes of emails from Laura Jordan, Donovan’s staff attorney and the former girlfriend of Josh Nassi, his campaign manager, who was one of the the men charged in the investigation. It also sought email correspondence connected to the roll-your-own bill. The legislation eventually passed after news of the pay-to-play scheme became public information through a series of arrest affidavits and federal indictments.