NEW HAVEN -- John G. Rowland's defense against his latest round of corruption and conspiracy charges will center on the Federal Election Commission filings of Lisa Wilson-Foley, a failed Republican 5th District congressional candidate, his lawyer said Friday.
Reid Weingarten, a Washington defense lawyer brought in to fight the seven-count indictment to which Rowland pleaded not guilty, gave reporters a glimpse of his strategy after a brief appearance and not guilty plea before Senior U.S. District Judge Ellen Bree Burns.
"He had no responsibility whatsoever to file anything with the FEC," Weingarten said during a 2½-minute statement on the courthouse sidewalk.
"She has been allowed to plead to a misdemeanor," Weingarten said of Wilson-Foley. "He, while working for her husband and doing real work, is facing 37 years of potential prison for a case involving her FEC returns."
Back in the same federal court where he admitted to corruption charges in 2004, Rowland pleaded not guilty here in connection with $35,000 in laundered consultant money. The hearing, which set bond at $250,000 and scheduled a court date for June, lasted about 10 minutes in an ornate, second-floor courtroom.
Rowland, 56, had been expected to deny the changes announced in an indictment Thursday evening.
The case will be pursued by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Liam Breenan and Christopher M. Mattei. The accumulated penalties could add up to 57 years in prison for the former three-term governor, who last week abruptly resigned from his job as a radio personality on WTIC 1080-AM in Hartford.
Wearing a black suit with charcoal stripes, Rowland walked to a podium before Burns at about 2:25 p.m. and answered a series of questions, including a few reminders that he had the right to remain silent. Weingarten stood by his side as Rowland said, "Yes, your honor," over and over.
Rowland waived the reading of the criminal indictment implicating him with two schemes to hide his proposed role in the 5th District congressional campaign in 2010 that was declined by candidate Mark Greenberg; and the 2012 campaign work for Wilson-Foley, whose husband, Brian Foley, allegedly paid Rowland for nominal work at his chain of nursing homes. They both recently pleaded guilty and face year-long prison terms.
After Weingarten said the basics of the charges did not have to be read aloud in court, Brennan stood and insisted that the occasion required they be outlined for the record. The trial was tentatively scheduled for June 10.
"I will be entering that order this afternoon," said Burns, who ascended her desk slowly, with the assistance of a cane.
"We are eager to go to trial," Weingarten said.
"I enjoy trials," said Burns, 90, a senior judge since 1992. "It should be an interesting one."
A few minutes later, out on the sidewalk in front of a dozen TV cameras, 20 photographers and as many reporters, Weingarten discounted the major charges against Rowland, including the conspiracy that resulted in the recent guilty pleas of Wilson-Foley and Foley, who tried to keep Rowland's controversial name from public FEC reports.
"We have very strong reactions to these charges," Weingarten told reporters. "For all intents and purposes, Gov. Rowland is charged with being improperly involved in two separate campaigns.
"For the first campaign, he is charged with obstruction of justice, carrying a 20-year potential prison sentence. There is absolutely no allegation that Gov. Rowland worked on that campaign, that Gov. Rowland received any money in connection with that campaign, that any documents were submitted to the Department of Justice or the FEC. No allegations of that whatsoever.
"The second campaign is identified as Lisa Foley's. In that instance, the allegation is that she, the candidate, had an obligation to disclose to the FEC in her legally mandated reports that Gov. Rowland was helping her. ... We will have an aggressive challenge to these charges. We are looking forward to it. Most of all, we're looking forward to this trial. And we fully expect our client to be fully vindicated."
While Weingarten was talking with reporters, Rowland left the courthouse by a side door, then walked about 30 yards, followed by a half-dozen photographers, to an adjacent office building, where he registered bail details with federal probation officers.
The New Haven courthouse is the location of Rowland's December 2004 guilty plea for corruption, six months after he resigned under the heat of an impeachment inquiry and a ruling from the state Supreme Court ordering him to testify before a special committee of the state House of Representatives.
Rowland served 10 months in prison and was released in February 2006, followed by four months of house arrest and three years of supervised release through federal probation officials.
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