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Feds Send "Clear and Simple Message": Rowland Guilty on All Charges

Photo by Jeff Cohen
John G. Rowland leaving the New Haven federal courthouse Friday.
Friday was one of several prominent lows on Rowland's remarkable rollercoaster ride.

After less than a full day of deliberation, a federal jury squarely laid the blame on former Connecticut Governor John G. Rowland for two attempted conspiracies involving concealment of payments to him in connection with election work for congressional candidates.

The decision, the worst possible outcome for Rowland, was received stoically on Friday afternoon by the former governor, even as behind him, his family wept.

The jury found Rowland guilty of all seven charges against him. The maximum sentence for that would be 57 years (by coincidence, Rowland's current age), although the actual sentence is expected to be lighter. It will, however, be considerably heavier than the 18 months Rowland was reportedly offered as part of an earlier plea agreement.

Rowland already served time in federal prison, ten years ago, for corruption charges related to his time as governor. His lead defense counsel, Reid Weingarten said, "We are going to seek an appeal, for sure."  

Judge Janet Arterton set Rowland's sentencing for December 12. 

The case began during the 2012 campaign for Congress in Connecticut's Fifth District. In a crowded field of Republican candidates, one of them -- former FBI agent Mike Clark -- became suspicious that Rowland was doing a considerable amount of campaign work for another of them, Lisa Wilson-Foley.

Yet another candidate, Mark Greenberg, eventually told Clark that he had been approached during the previous cycle by Rowland who proposed a scheme in which he would work for Greenberg's campaign but be paid by the candidate's animal shelter, thus escaping detection during federal election filings. (Greenberg rebuffed this overture.) Clark eventually shared his suspicions of an improper relation between Rowland and Wilson-Foley in a letter to the Federal Election Commission.

Two years later, in the spring of 2o14, Wilson-Foley and her husband Brian Foley were in federal court , pleading guilty to just such an improper relationship: a scheme in which Rowland would work for the 2012 Wilson-Foley campaign, but be paid by Foley's nursing home company, Apple Rehab, in a manner that would keep his name off all filings with the FEC. 

This scheme became the heart of the government's case against Rowland, and it was bolstered by the prosecution's additional charges that he had tried, less successfully, to concoct a similar fraudulent deal with Greenberg.

Friday was one of several prominent lows on Rowland's remarkable rollercoaster ride, which began in 1984 when he was one of the youngest men ever elected to Congress, where he served from the age of 27 to 32. He won three gubernatorial elections in Connecticut, but his final victory in 2002 was shadowed by allegations from his opponent, Bill Curry, that Rowland had improperly awarded no-bid contracts for large state construction projects.

Those charges lingered, and became the basis of both an impeachment investigation and a federal criminal case. In 2004, after losing an appeal to the state Supreme Court to squash a House Select Committee subpoena of both Rowland and his wife Patricia, Rowland resigned from office rather than testify under oath to the impeachment panel. He pleaded guilty of theft of honest services, and was sentenced to a year in prison, of which he served ten months before his release in 2006.

In 2010, Rowland became a talk show host for WTIC-AM. The government's case against him included extensive testimony about ways in which, while serving as a secretly paid consultant to the Wilson-Foley campaign, Rowland used his show and the station to help her and hurt one of her opponents, Andrew Roraback, the eventual Republican nominee and now a Superior Court judge.

Michael J. Gustafson, head of the criminal division of the U.S. Attorney's office in Connecticut, said: "The jury's verdict today, I think, sends a very clear and simple message [to] candidates, people who work for campaigns: don't try to get cute by half; put your name on it. If you're in a situation where you have to ask yourself if this is what we should do or not do, maybe you're pretty close to getting an answer for yourself."

Colin McEnroe is a radio host, newspaper columnist, magazine writer, author, playwright, lecturer, moderator, college instructor and occasional singer. Colin can be reached at colin@ctpublic.org.

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