Donovan Campaign Aide Indicted By Grand Jury; Idea Hatched At Waterbury Smoke Shop
(Updated 9:05 p.m.) A federal grand jury Wednesday said authorities have enough evidence to charge Robert Braddock Jr., Chris Donovan’s former finance director, with conspiring to conceal the source of $27,500 in campaign donations.
The indictment makes similar, but much more detailed allegations than the federal complaint that led to Braddock’s arrest at the end of May. It alleges that Braddock concealed the identity of donors who were seeking to influence roll-your-own cigarette legislation before such a bill even existed and as far back as November 2011.
The indictment alleges that roll-your-own smoke shop owners and co-conspirator 1, identified in media reports as Ray Soucy, began to discuss the possibility the General Assembly would enact harmful legislation that would impact their businesses months before the undercover operation even began. The idea was hatched during a meeting between RYO owners and Soucy at a smoke shop in Waterbury back in November 2011. The undercover investigation didn’t begin until March 2012.
The RYO business model was built around exploiting a tax loophole that allowed customers to roll 200 cigarettes in about 10 minutes at a cost about $30 below retail cigarette prices.
In November 2011, the RYO shop owners and others began to deliver to Braddock and the Donovan campaign multiple checks in the amount of $2,500, which were, in fact, conduit contributions. Typically, the contributors were reimbursed with cash from one or more of the RYO tobacco shop owners. Braddock accepted a total of four $2,500 conduit campaign contributions in November and December 2011, according to the indictment. Donovan, a Democrat from Meriden, is one of three candidates vying for party’s nomination Aug. 14 in the 5th congressional district.
Braddock and Soucy arranged for Donovan to meet with RYO tobacco shop owners at a Meriden restaurant on Nov. 16, 2011, but instructed the shop owners not to talk about a bill during that meeting because “there is always people following this guy around, watching what he’s doing . . .”
A similar meeting also wasmentioned in the report by former U.S. Attorney Stanley Twardy, who was hired by the Donovan campaign to do an investigation of the allegations.
According to the Twardy report:
“In the fall of 2011, Donovan met for breakfast with two individuals whom he understood to own RYO smoke shops, but whom he had never met before. The breakfast meeting was arranged by Ray Soucy, who supported the Campaign Committee and who had known Donovan for a long period of time. During that meal, these individuals explained the tax issue then pending in the Superior Court. Apparently, that was the first time Donovan learned about the RYO issue. Individuals who owned such smoke shops subsequently donated money to the Campaign Committee. Donovan believes the donors included the two individuals he met for breakfast, but does not know for sure.”
The RYO owners expressed concern they were doing something wrong by trying to influence legislation through congressional campaign donations. RYO Owner 2 worried that if “something happens, they say, ‘why the [expletive] did these guys donate ten thousand to this campaign?’”
But they made their donations Dec. 8, 2011, at a fundraising event in Waterbury where they handed the checks to Braddock, who told them, “You’re gonna be fine. I wouldn’t go repeating what I just said, but I think you’re gonna be fine.”
There was no actual roll-your-own legislation until April 2012 because the matter was still being considered. On Feb. 24, the court decided in favor of the RYO shops, allowing them to continue operating as long as the customers were operating the machines. At that point the indictment says the shop owners — none of whom are named — met again to discuss the possibility of defeating legislation. They met at a Waterbury smoke shop in February where they discussed giving more money to Donovan’s congressional campaign.
The Feds Step In
In March, Soucy met with RYO Owner 2 and two undercover FBI agents posing as RYO investors with an interest in maintaining the tax-exempt status of RYO cigarettes, according to the indictment.
During the meeting, Soucy explained that it is a lot easier to “kill” a bill than it is to get one passed. But if it does make it through committee, Soucy suggested that Donovan, identified only as Public Official 1 in the indictment, has the ability to kill it.
“Alright, if it makes it through all the committees, again, now [Public Official 1] has to call it though. I said thank you to [Public Official 1] in the tune of ten thousand dollars,” Soucy told the undercover agents. That’s when the undercover agents agreed to finance the next $10,000 in campaign contributions and the undercover part of the operation began. Some of that operation was previously detailed in the original complaint.
What wasn’t detailed in that initial complaint was what happened at the Democratic nominating convention on May 14. The new indictment says a campaign aide convinced Soucy to attend the nominating convention at a school in Waterbury where he delivered the last $10,000 in checks to the campaign.
When Soucy entered the convention he was taken to a separate room where Donovan approached him and engaged him in a conversation, according to the indictment. Following that conversation, which is not detailed in the indictment, Soucy was led into a back room where he delivered three $2,500 payments to the campaign, and one $2,500 check to the Democratic Party.
As he was exiting the building, Soucy saw Braddock who then guided him to a “quiet location,” according to the indictment. Soucy then told Braddock “he had just ‘thanked the man,’ and that ‘twenty thousand was well worth it . . . And another ten grand.’”
“You’re the man,” Braddock replied, according to the 20-page indictment.
All told, according to the indictment, the Donovan campaign accepted 11 checks totaling $27,500 in illegal straw/conduit donations.
Braddock is being charged with one count of conspiracy to conceal federal campaign contributions, one count of accepting federal campaign contributions made by persons in the names of others, and one count of causing false reports to be filed with the Federal Election Commission. All charges carry a fine of up to $250,000 and a two to five year prison term.
“This indictment details an extensive conspiracy to corrupt the electoral process,” U.S. Attorney David Fein said. “The U.S. Attorney’s Office and the FBI continue to investigate not only this matter, but all illegal behavior that corrupts our system of government.”
Frank Riccio II, Braddock’s attorney, said he plans to plead “not guilty” to all three charges during arraignment Thursday in New Haven.
Donovan’s campaign, which has been sidetracked by Braddock’s arrest, maintains there’s no inconsistencies between the indictment and Twardy’s report.
“Nothing in this indictment is inconsistent with the findings of the independent Twardy report,” Gabe Rosenberg, Donovan’s campaign spokesman, said.
The campaign has refused since early June to comment on the federal investigation.
Hugh McQuaid contributed to this report.