Former Chris Donovan campaign manager Josh Nassi and four alleged co-conspirators entered not guilty pleas to federal allegations that they conspired to hide the sources of donations to a congressional campaign in an attempt to influence legislation.
On Thursday morning the feds arrested Nassi, Benjamin Hogan, an employee of Smoke House Tobacco, David Moffa, a former union president, Paul Rogers, a co-owner of Smoke House Tobacco, and George Tirado, another co-owner of Smoke House Tobacco.
Daniel Monterio, an owner of a company in Waterbury, also was charged but did not appear in New Haven Federal Court on Thursday because he was out of the state.
The five men who were arraigned before U.S. Magistrate Judge Joan G. Margolis were brought into the courtroom in handcuffs. All entered not-guilty pleas to charges that they conspired to funnel straw donations to Donovan’s campaign on behalf of roll-your-own cigarette shop owners who wanted Donovan to block legislation to tax them.
Following the court proceedings, all of the men were released on $100,000 surety bonds. They are scheduled to appear in court again Oct. 10 at 9 a.m.
Nassi’s lawyer, William Bloss, argued that his client should not have to put up a surety bond because he was not a flight risk.
Nassi had known for nearly two months that he would ultimately be charged in the expanding case that began in late May with the arrest of Donovan’s campaign finance director, Robert Braddock, Bloss said. Still, Nassi cooperated with authorities and even canceled a planned trip out of the country, Bloss said.
“The government suggested it might not be a good idea to travel right now and Mr. Nassi canceled his plans,” he said. “. . . This is really not a surety case, your honor.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Mattei said he didn’t dispute Nassi’s cooperation, but said now that Nassi had been formally charged it was only appropriate that his bond be in line with those of the other men charged.
“In the government’s view, some security is appropriate to ensure he appears for court,” Mattei said.
The judge agreed with Mattei.
During the arraignment, two of the defendants were asked to give up firearms until the case is concluded. One of them, Tirado, is a Waterbury police detective. Tirado’s lawyer said he turned his weapon over to the Waterbury Police Department, where he has been placed on administrative leave.
The other man, Moffa, a former president of the AFSCME Local 387 correction officers union, had five guns in his house when he was taken into custody.
All of the men were asked to stay in the state while they are free on bond, but some were given exceptions. The judge gave Nassi clearance to assist his father in New York. Moffa will be allowed to attend a golf tournament in Vermont and a family wedding in Philadelphia, as well as to bring two of his children back and forth from colleges in New York and Massachusetts.
Meanwhile, Tirado will be allowed to take a previously planned week-long vacation in Rhode Island, and Rogers was approved to go to a Yankees game.
Nassi is the second member of the Donovan campaign to be arrested by the F.B.I. since Braddock’s arrest May 31. Earlier this month, Braddock pleaded not guilty to three counts of conspiring to hide the source of nearly $30,000 in campaign donations.
Both Braddock and Nassi face up to 12 years in prison in addition to potentially heavy fines.
Former union official Ray Soucy also pleaded guilty Tuesday to one count of devising a scheme to bribe a public official, and one count of conspiring to make false statements to the Federal Election Commission. He faces a maximum term of 20 years in prison on the fraud conviction and a maximum term of five years on the conspiracy conviction.
Of all the men charged, Rogers faces the most prison time. In addition to the other charges, Rogers is accused of two counts of devising a scheme to bribe a public official, which according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office carries a max sentence of 20 years in prison.
“Conspiring to conceal the origin of campaign contributions through straw donors undermines the integrity of the electoral process,” FBI Special Agent in Charge Mertz said Thursday morning in a press release. “Engaging in a scheme to bribe an elected public official is unconscionable and destroys the peoples’ faith in a system of government which should be for all, not just for those who are willing to pay. The FBI will continue to investigate not only this matter but corruption at all levels of government.”