Forced to resign Connecticut's highest office a decade ago for betraying the public's trust, former Republican Gov. John G. Rowland is facing a new round of criminal charges for his alleged role in a campaign cover-up.
Federal investigators indicted Rowland on Thursday in a stunning recurrence of history for the once-imprisoned governor, fingering him as a co-conspirator in a plot to mislead election officials about consulting work he did for GOP congressional candidate Lisa Wilson-Foley in 2012.
Rowland, 56, is charged with offenses stemming from his efforts to conceal the extent of his involvement in two federal election campaigns in the seven-count indictment.
Said former U.S. Rep. Rob Simmons, R-Conn., who was one of the first Republicans to call on Rowland to resign as governor: "I think it's really sad that John Rowland, who had one of the most promising political careers of anybody in a generation here in Connecticut, has now run afoul of the law twice."
In addition to his involvement with Wilson-Foley, the indictment mentions Rowland trying to enter into a similar arrangement with another GOP congressional candidate, Mark Greenberg, who rebuffed him.
Greenberg declined to comment further.
"The indictment charges Rowland with two counts of falsification of records in a federal investigation, a charge that carries a maximum term of imprisonment of 20 years on each count; one count of conspiracy, a charge that carries a maximum term of imprisonment of five years; two counts of causing false statements to be made to the (Federal Election Commission), a charge that carries a maximum term of imprisonment of five years on each count; and two counts of causing illegal campaign contributions, a charge that carries a maximum term of imprisonment of one year on each count," according to a statement from the U.S. Department of Justice.
Rowland is expected to be arraigned Friday at 2:30 p.m. at federal court in New Haven.
"Obviously, it's just hard to believe after what he's been through, admitting guilt to previous crimes, that he would go down that road again," state Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, a candidate for governor, said of Rowland. "He's obviously innocent until proven guilty."
Numerous people close to the current investigation told Hearst that Rowland turned down an 18-month prison sentence as part of a plea deal.
The indictment of Rowland, who was put on a pedestal by his party at a young age and served in Congress, culminates a dragnet for political corruption in Connecticut wide in scope that originated in Rowland's native Waterbury.
It also caps a humbling week for the disgraced politician and Middlebury resident, who April 3 gave up his radio talk show, that was key to rehabilitating his image, under mounting pressure from critics, including Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.
The timing could not be more inopportune for Connecticut Republicans, who held their marquee fundraising dinner of the year in Stamford on Thursday night with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush as the keynote speaker.
Democrats already drew an analogy to the movie "Groundhog Day," mentioning that one of Bush's last major visits to Connecticut came when Rowland was governor in 2003.
"We've definitely seen this movie before, and we know how badly it ends," state Democratic Chairwoman Nancy DiNardo said in a statement. "The (Connecticut) GOP bringing back John Rowland's close friend, Jeb Bush, on the eve of more expected felony indictments for Rowland only reinforces the fact that the Connecticut Republican Party is still influenced by Rowland."
State GOP Chairman Jerry Labriola Jr. pushed back against the claim that Rowland is still in the good graces of Republicans.
"It's a cheap shot from a Democratic Party which is desperate to change the subject from Dan Malloy's mismanagement of our economy and the brutally high taxes we all have to pay," Labriola said in a statement to Hearst Connecticut Media. "The Republican Party is focused on the future, and is committed to fixing Connecticut's economy. While there may be great fascination in this story, the fact is John Rowland has no connection to the Connecticut Republican Party nor has he for over 10 years."
Labriola declined further comment Thursday night at the Prescott Bush Dinner.
Rowland resigned as governor in 2004 and served 10 months in prison for accepting bribes that included $90,000 in charter flights to Florida and Las Vegas from Key Air of Oxford, which enjoyed million-dollar tax breaks from his administration.
The scandal, compounded with the arrest of several other major public servants, led to the coining of the pejorative of "Corrupticut."
"Even from the beginning, his compass was totally screwed up. There's no remorse in these people," said John Olsen, who was both president of the Connecticut AFL-CIO and chairman of the state Democratic Party while Rowland was governor. "The whole thing is a sad, sad chapter for Connecticut."
The couple pleaded guilty in federal court March 31 to hatching the consulting arrangement with Rowland. They each face up to a year in prison and up to a $100,000 fine, but are expected to receive probation in return for rolling over on Rowland, multiple sources familiar with the dynamics of the case told Hearst Connecticut Media.
Rowland's former campaign manager, George Gallo, is also under federal investigation for allegedly steering GOP direct-mail contracts to a Florida firm as chief of staff for the House Republican caucus.
Red flags went up when Rowland received $35,000 for consulting work from Apple Health Care, a chain of nursing homes owned by Brian Foley.
At the same time, Rowland was a political adviser to Wilson-Foley, who finished last in the GOP's 5th Congressional District primary.
The relationship spawned a complaint with the Federal Election Commission by Mike Clark, a retired FBI agent and GOP rival of Wilson-Foley who took part in the sting that sent Rowland to prison.
Failing to report campaign expenditures to the FEC is a crime.
Rowland likely would get to keep his state pension of $4,309 a month, even as a repeat offender.
An ethics reform law spawned by Rowland's resignation as governor, but narrowed in its scope by the Legislature, only applies to sitting public-sector officials and employees who are convicted of abusing their powers.
Connecticut taxpayers also foot the bill, currently estimated at $2,050 per month, for medical, dental and prescription coverage for Rowland and his family, according to the state comptroller's office, which also provided Hearst Connecticut Media with Rowland's monthly pension amount.
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