Prosecutors Say Evidence Points to Donovan Understanding Scheme
In recommending a prison sentence for his former campaign manager, prosecutors say the evidence makes it “plain” that former House Speaker Chris Donovan understood the scheme to trade campaign contributions for legislative influence.
Donovan, an unsuccessful 2012 congressional candidate in Connecticut’s 5th District, was not charged with any crime in relation to the corruption investigation. But that investigation led to the conviction of the campaign’s finance director and a guilty plea from Campaign Manager Joshua Nassi and six other men on charges of conspiring to hide the source of $27,500 in campaign donations.
A federal jury convicted Robert Braddock Jr. in May and U.S. District Court Judge Janet Arterton sentenced him to 38 months in August. Nassi pleaded guilty last summer and is expected to be sentenced Thursday.
In a statement to reporters in May, Donovan maintained that his “vote was never for sale” and that he was not involved with the contribution conspiracy.
Federal prosecutors filed a memorandum last week, asking Judge Arterton to sentence Nassi to at least two years in prison.
In the memo, Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Mattei points to a recorded phone call made in May 2012, in which Donovan contacted Harry “Ray” Soucy. Soucy, a former correction officer, orchestrated the conspiracy on behalf of the smoke shop owners looking to defeat a bill impacting their businesses.
“It is undisputed that, on May 2, 2012, Mr. Donovan contacted Mr. Soucy at Mr. Nassi’s request,” Mattei wrote. “The recording of that call makes plain that Mr. Donovan understood from Mr. Nassi that Mr. Soucy was seeking to secure his commitment to defeat the RYO Legislation in exchange for campaign contributions.”
During the call, Soucy asks Donovan if he could tell the tobacco shop owners that the bill was “dead.” He tells the House speaker that the shop owners would “take care of” him if that were the case.
In response, Donovan did not say that the bill was dead, but he told Soucy that he was “working on it” and said he knew where the smoke shop owners were coming from.
In the document, Mattei also cites another conversation, recorded after the end of the legislative session. At the time, the bill Soucy was seeking to defeat had not passed. In the video, Donovan tells Soucy he “took care of” him. In the same recording, the House speaker denies killing the bill “but acknowledged that he ‘worked on the legislative side’,” Mattei wrote.
Prosecutors referenced the incident to demonstrate the role Nassi, a longtime aide to Donovan, played in the conspiracy. After the recorded conversation, Nassi accepts payments totaling $10,000 from Soucy. The government is seeking a prison sentence of between 24 and 30 months for the former campaign manager who eventually cooperated with their investigation.
So far, Judge Arterton has sentenced four men for their roles in the case. Despite various requests from defense attorneys seeking punishments that do not involve prison time, Arterton has handed down terms of incarceration to each ranging from 21 to 38 months.
Arterton told one defendant that “the message is that the cost of corruption ought to be too high.”
Nassi, like most of the defendants in the case who were confronted by the FBI, agreed to cooperate with investigation.
However, according to the document filed by the government Monday, Nassi later took some action to obstruct the investigation.
“Mr. Nassi’s offense is made more serious by the fact that, after initially assuming a cooperative posture with investigators, Mr. Nassi took steps that were deliberately designed to impede the investigation,” Mattei wrote.
In the memo, Mattei calls Nassi a “lynchpin of this conspiracy” and the only member who could assure the smoke shop owners they were receiving the influence for which they were paying.
“At the time of this offense, Mr. Nassi was at the height of his influence,” Mattei wrote. “He was an effective and savvy political operative. He had every reason to reject the corrupt proposals made by Mr. Soucy, but he did not reject them. He embraced them.”
In his own sentencing memo, Nassi’s lawyer, William Bloss, asks the court to impose a reasonable prison sentence, but not a longer sentence than necessary. He invites the judge to consider a shorter sentence than what federal guidelines recommend.
Bloss tried to shed some light on the circumstances that led to Nassi’s decision to participate in the conspiracy. Bloss said Nassi, who was working on his first federal election campaign, was stressed and out of his league.
When he took the job as Donovan’s campaign manager, Bloss said Nassi had expected an easy primary victory based on Donovan’s long legislative service. But Donovan’s Democratic opponents proved more formidable than expected, and Bloss said his chances were further hurt by the speaker’s “quixotic fight for an increase in the minimum wage in 2012” despite opposition from other legislative leaders and the governor.
Nassi, faced with the risk of “failing spectacularly” at his first congressional campaign, felt pressure to appease representatives of certain voting blocks. Bloss said Nassi perceived Soucy to be one of those representatives at the time.
Now, Bloss said Nassi is extremely remorseful for his crimes for many reasons. Most importantly, Bloss said his client is sorry for helping to undermine the public trust in government.
“It has been repeatedly corroded by many recent publicized offenses, not least of which were the recent incarceration of a governor, a state senator, and mayors of two of our largest cities. And now this. The people of the State of Connecticut deserve honest government,” Bloss wrote.