Where There’s Smoke: Investigators Uncover A Culture of Corruption at the CT Capitol
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On Nov. 2, 2011, federal investigators were made aware of a conspiracy to influence a key state legislator in an effort to preserve a tax loophole for smoke shops using roll-your-own tobacco machines in Connecticut.
The tax loophole had been well publicized in 2011, as the state Department of Revenue Services had begun litigating the issue months earlier. Uncertain of the outcome of the state’s lawsuit, the smoke shop owners began working with a politically connected former correction officer on a plan to make sure new legislation would not close the loophole.
In the process of uncovering the scheme, federal investigators exposed a culture of corruption at the state Capitol as well as a campaign finance system still in dire need of overhaul, including much closer oversight for — or perhaps the abolishment of — the “leadership” PACs that were left in play the last time the campaign finance statutes were rewritten in 2005. But instead, Democrats in the General Assembly went in an entirely different and disappointing direction, opting to open the floodgates. More on that later.
What follows here is a timeline that tracks the pay-to-play scheme through numerous participants, undercover agents, and informants over the course of about two years on the way to seven guilty pleas and one jury trial conviction. The evidence also exposed the questionable activities of three high-ranking members of Connecticut’s political establishment: former House Speaker Chris Donovan, Assist. Majority Leader Joe Aresimowicz (who has since been promoted to Majority Leader), and House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero.
No charges have yet been filed against the three despite numerous pieces of evidence showing that they were made aware of the scheme. Further, in some instances they even participated or allowed their staff to participate. See for yourself by clicking on the image at the top. All the pertinant trial evidence is now available here in chronological order.
Party leaders and the legislature thus far have demonstrated no interest in taking action, perhaps because of the stature of the individuals involved. But failing that, there is a chance that law enforcement may still get involved with respect to the evidence against Donovan, Aresimowicz, and Cafero. The other co-conspirators who either pleaded out or were found guilty are still to be sentenced, and there is always the possibility of more information coming to light in that process.
In cases where federal investigations reveal evidence of violations of state law, federal authorities often refer evidence in those matters to the Chief State’s Attorney’s office for consideration, and vice versa.
One thing is clear — by taking his case to trial, Donovan’s former campaign finance director allowed federal prosecutors to make public a pile of evidence that will make you wonder whether this was the exception to the rule, or business as usual in Connecticut.
Once the timeline opens up, you can click on the images on the left of each slide or on the headlines or live links in the text to visit pages of evidence posted on CTNewsJunkie.com. Anywhere that you see a play button you can click through to either hear or watch recordings captured by law enforcement surveillance during the investigation. There are quite a few news reports mixed in as well. Exhibit numbers may appear to be out of order because evidence related to early activities was gathered after search warrants were authorized later in the investigation.