© 2024 Connecticut Public

FCC Public Inspection Files:
WPKT · WRLI-FM · WEDW-FM · Public Files Contact
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Trial Unfolds in New Haven for Former Connecticut Governor Rowland

Credit Kuzma/iStock / Thinkstock
Rowland drafted agreements that prosecutors allege were sham business contracts with outside businesses owned by the candidates to serve as ?cover.?

The federal corruption trial of convicted felon and former Connecticut Governor John G. Rowland began in earnest Wednesday in New Haven.

Federal prosecutors began their opening arguments by telling jurors that Rowland ?tried to make money off two different campaigns,? and that ?he tried to hide his activities from the press, from the opponents, and from the voters.?

A grand jury has previously indicted Rowland on seven counts, including obstruction of justice, causing false statements, making illegal campaign contributions, and conspiracy.

The morning began with an hour or so of instruction from Judge Janet Bond Arterton. Throughout, Rowland sat in a dark suit, white shirt, and striped tie, surrounded by his legal team of at least four people.  His wife sat behind him.

Throughout his opening statements, prosecutor Liam Brennan usedRowland?'sown emails against him. In one, the former governor told a candidate, "?I can get you elected if you are interested.?"


#2929296 / gettyimages.com

Prosecutors say Rowland allegedly devised ways to do work for the congressional campaigns of Republicans Mark Greenberg and Lisa Wilson-Foley,? but without getting paid directly from the campaigns themselves. Instead, he drafted agreements that prosecutors allege were sham business contracts with outside businesses owned by the candidates to serve as ?cover.? 

The prosecutors say the alleged goal was to pay Rowland -- ?a one-time successful politician turned relatively popular radio host?? -- for campaign work, and ?to keep that information from the voters.? "Lisa Wilson-Foley ?will tell you [Rowland] was an essential part of the campaign, and he even went so far as to use the radio show? to help the campaign," Brennan said.

Credit Shawn Sienkiewicz / The Hartford Courant
The Hartford Courant
Former Gov. John Rowland on the air at WTIC.

When it was his turn, Rowland'?s attorney, Reid Weingarten, told jurors of the man himself ?from political success to personal failure.

?"He was charged. He pled guilty, and he did time,"? Weingarten said of Rowland'?s eventual fall from grace and federal conviction. "He came out a felon, and he came out humiliated and disgraced, and nothing will ever change that. ...When Rowland left prison, he also had a family and bills, and he ?wanted and needed to work. He wanted and needed to put food on his table.?"

At least with regard to the campaign of Lisa Wilson-Foley, though, Rowland wasn'?t getting paid for campaign work, Weingarten said. He said that Rowland ?was volunteering for her in 2011 when her campaign started to gear up for Congress.?

His attorney said that eventually, Rowland'?s history made him too dangerous to have close to the campaign. "Wilson-Foley felt bad," Weingarten said, "so her husband, Brian Foley, gave the former governor a ?consolation? prize: a contract to work for his nursing home company." Weingarten said Rowland earned $35,000 from the company, and he ?earned every penny.?

Rowland's attorney said the allegation is that ?the point of all this was to hide Rowland from the Federal Elections Commission. "John Rowland cannot be hidden," Weingarten said. "He was totally out there, hustling the delegates, helping out the campaign. There was nothing hidden about John Rowland.?"

When federal prosecutors eventually got involved, Weingarten said, they found that Foley had committed a variety of election law violations unrelated to Rowland. Weingarten said this left Foley massively exposed.

"?So, what does he do?" Weingarten said. "?Let'?s see. Maybe we can find a big fish. Maybe we can find a high profile guy to serve up, someone the feds will be interested in to go after and get the heat off me. Maybe we can find a Page One guy. How about a controversial ex-governor like John Rowland??"

Credit Chion Wolf / WNPR
Former Gov. John Rowland facing the media in 2009 at a funeral for former Hartford Mayor Mike Peters.

Weingarten said federal prosecutors bought it. In return, he said, they gave Brian Foley easy treatment. "A slap on the wrist?"? he asked. "No. More like a wet kiss on the lips.?"

When the trial is over, Rowland's attorney said there ?will not be a smidgen of evidence? that Rowland did anything wrong. He said the jury will find that the former governor was just hoping to earn some money and maybe ?redeem himself just a little.?

The first witness for the prosecution was Mark Greenberg, a Republican candidate for the fifth district congressional seat. Greenberg told the court that in 2009, Rowland proposed that he would have ?a paid role? for the campaign.

?"He indicated that he didn'?t want to be paid by the campaign,"? Greenberg said. "?He wanted to be paid by other entities ?-- perhaps the Simon Foundation; perhaps other real estate entities.?" The Simon Foundation is an animal rescue foundation run by Greenberg.

?"He indicated he wanted to be paid by basically any entity other than the campaign,"? Greenberg said. But Greenberg also said that wasn'?t an arrangement he was comfortable with. "If he was going to give consulting for the campaign, in my judgment, in my 35 years of business, it needed to be paid by the campaign and not by any other entity,?" Greenberg said. ?"That was completely unacceptable. I wouldn'?t have paid him from anything other than the campaign."

?Rowland's proposal was for a consultancy, political consultancy, plain and simple,? Greenberg said.

?"Any doubt in your mind about that?"? the prosecutor asked.

"?No,"? Greenberg said. "Zero.?"

Later, Greenberg said he looked at the contract, which had nothing to do with political consulting and everything to do with work for the Simon Foundation. It included language about ?sales and service, strategic advice, public relations, business consulting,? and more. Greenberg said he hadn'?t discussed any of that with Rowland beforehand.

The contract also proposed that Rowland would be paid $35,000 a month, the first three months of which would be paid in advance. The retainer would eventually convert to $25,000. The agreement would have gone from November 1, 2009 through January 1, 2012. The election was in the fall of 2010.

Rowland told Greenberg if he canceled the contract, Greenberg would owe him 90 percent of what was still owed.

?"I rejected this contract. I didn'?t call him back on this contract,"? Greenberg said.

Then, a few days later, Rowland sent Greenberg an email. Rowland wrote:

?Let me know if you want to put your own proposal together. Unfortunately, it was difficult to get into a long discussion this week in Bloomfield. Your wife was very patient with us and I didn'?t want to push it. Let me know and have a great weekend.? ?Love the Gov.?

On November 2,  2009, Rowland wrote another email with the subject line: ?

Any decisions on the campaign trail??

Greenberg wrote back:

?I always enjoy your company?.

To which Rowland wrote:

?I appreciate that you enjoy my company, but do you want to negotiate a contract? By the way, there will be another Republican candidate or two after today'?s election let me know. Thanks.?

Greenberg told the prosecutor that he and his staff eventually agreed that hiring Rowland would not be a good idea. "No way,"? wrote one advisor.

?"As much as I love John Rowland, wow, don't think this would be the kind of message we'?re trying to send to people,"? wrote another advisor.

But Rowland apparently kept trying.

Listen to a recap on the first day of the trial, from WNPR's All Things Considered:

The trial continues Thursday.

Jeff Cohen started in newspapers in 2001 and joined Connecticut Public in 2010, where he worked as a reporter and fill-in host. In 2017, he was named news director. Then, in 2022, he became a senior enterprise reporter.

Stand up for civility

This news story is funded in large part by Connecticut Public’s Members — listeners, viewers, and readers like you who value fact-based journalism and trustworthy information.

We hope their support inspires you to donate so that we can continue telling stories that inform, educate, and inspire you and your neighbors. As a community-supported public media service, Connecticut Public has relied on donor support for more than 50 years.

Your donation today will allow us to continue this work on your behalf. Give today at any amount and join the 50,000 members who are building a better—and more civil—Connecticut to live, work, and play.

Related Content