(Updated 8:08 p.m.) The FBI on Wednesday arrested Robert Braddock, finance director for House Speaker Chris Donovan’s congressional campaign,and charged him with conspiracy to conceal the source of a campaign contribution.
According to the affidavit, Braddock, 33, of Meriden, arranged for at least $15,000 to be transferred to the Donovan campaign in return for defeating a bill that would have required roll-your-own tobacco shops to obtain a $5,000 manufacturing license. The legislative session ended May 9 before the bill could be raised in the Senate, effectively killing it before it reached the House.
The affidavit doesn’t name Donovan, but refers to him as “Public Official Number 1.” The complaint also protects the identity of at least three co-conspirators.
In a three sentence statement, Donovan said he and his campaign are cooperating fully with the ongoing FBI investigation.
“The campaign employees allegedly involved have been terminated, and the leadership of the campaign has changed. Tom Swan is joining the campaign, as campaign manager, effective immediately,” Donovan said.
Swan replaces Josh Nassi as Donovan’s campaign manager.
The charges against Braddock resulted from a two-month FBI investigation into the campaign’s finances.
An undercover FBI agent contacted Braddock in April posing as an investor in a roll-your-own smoke shop and scheduled a meeting with Braddock and “Co-Conspirator Number 3”, who, according to the affidavit, is an aide to the campaign.
At the meeting, the undercover agent gave “Co-Conspirator 1” $11,000 cash so that they could deposit it into the accounts of straw donors — referred to as “conduits” — who would then give the money to the campaign in the form of a cashier’s check. The undercover agent told the co-conspirators that there was a little extra in the envelope for them.
One of the four checks written to the campaign from a conduit donor bounced, according to the affidavit. But two of the unnamed co-conspirators, who used their associates as straw donors, said they would take care of that and the check was cashed and the $60 bounce fee was paid.
In early May, the undercover agent again contacted the Donovan campaign and told them he had another $10,000 he wanted to donate through conduits. On May 14, Braddock engaged in phone conversations with conduit donoros to accept the cash and to make the donations — three to the campaign and one to the party.
Throughout the affidavit, “Co-Conspirator 1” refers to the conduit donors as drug addicts and drunks.
“I don’t know if you know the last time one of these asshole drug addicts bounced a check even though we put the fucking money right in their hand,” co conspirator 1 said during a recorded conversation with Braddock.
Following the second payment of $10,000, “Co-Conspirator 1” assured Braddock that their efforts to stop the roll-your-own cigarette legislation were worth it.
“Like I said, you know, it was a very good investment for us to kill that bill. And they want to stay friends for a long time,” he told Braddock.
The affidavit says the conspirators briefly panicked when they realized that one of the conduit donors with whom they’d made arrangements was actually part owner of a smoke shop. They made the realization just as another campaign staffer was on the way to the bank to cash the check.
“You wanna tear that one up and I’ll . . . I’ll get another one?” Co-Conspirator 1 asked. “Or get that one back that’s uh, that’s a bank check so get that back.”
“I gotta hang up with you right now,” Braddock responded. “She’s on her way to the fucking bank to deposit it right now.”
Braddock then placed another call before calling Co-Conspirator 1 to tell him they were “all good.”
At one point as they were trying to make sure they knew who contributed which check, Braddock told the undercover FBI Agent: “Because I don’t want to look like an idiot in front of my, you know, my future congressman.”
The FBI interviewed dozens of lawmakers and recorded several phone calls during the course of the investigation, but a Senate Democratic spokesman said there was never any communication between Donovan and Sen. President Donald Williams regarding the legislation in question.
Adam Joseph, a spokesman for Sen. President Donald Williams, said Thursday that Donovan never communicated with either Williams or Sen. Majority Leader Martin Looney regarding the fate of the roll-your-own-cigarette bill. He said the bill died on the Senate calendar for other reasons. For one thing, he said Sen. Len Suzio, R-Meriden, planned to introduce an amendment to the bill that would have eaten up precious time in the final days of the session.
“We were informed it was going to be a talker,” Joseph said. “Trying to manage the Senate calendar and the flow of business, it wasn’t raised.”
Joseph said there have been discussions about raising the bill as part of a budget implementer during the upcoming special session. He said House Democrats have been part of that discussion but didn’t know how Donovan felt about it.
The purpose of the conduit contributions alleged in the FBI complaint was to conceal the fact that the individuals who were actually financing the payments had an interest in legislation that was introduced in the General Assembly.
“In his role as campaign finance director, it is alleged that this defendant conspired to conceal the source of campaign contributions to the campaign of a candidate for Congress,” U.S. Attorney David Fein said in a press release. “The U.S. Attorney’s Office and the FBI are committed to investigating and prosecuting illegal behavior that corrupts our political process. This investigation is ongoing.”
“Combating corruption at all levels is the FBI’s top criminal priority,” FBI Special Agent in Charge Kimberly Mertz said in a press release.
A conspiracy charge carries a maximum term of five years and a fine of up to $250,000. Braddock was released Wednesday on a $100,000 bond after appearing before a U.S. District Magistrate in Hartford.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Christopher M. Mattei and Eric J. Glover.
Donovan received the Democratic endorsement in the 5th Congressional District earlier this month, but he is being challenged in a party primary by Elizabeth Esty of Cheshire and Dan Roberti of Kent. Both Esty and Roberti lead Donovan in fundraising, according to the most recent campaign reports.