File photo by Peter Casolino/New Haven Register
David Moffa exits federal court in July after his arraignment (File photo by Peter Casolino/New Haven Register)

The federal investigation into an “unlawful” gambling operation by a Waterbury smoke shop owner may have played a role in uncovering the illegal contributions to former House Speaker Chris Donovan’s failed congressional campaign.

According to sentencing documents for David “Buffalo” Moffa, the retired Correction Department officer and union leader from Middlebury, “this investigation focused, in part, on an unlawful gambling operation involving Paul Rogers and others.”

Rogers, co-owner of the Smoke House Tobacco a roll-your-own tobacco shop, pleaded guilty in January 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 and impeding the enforcement of federal campaign finance laws.

Moffa, who was supposed to be sentenced today, “participated in that enterprise by accepting bets on Rogers’ behalf and collecting gambling debts for Rogers,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Chris Mattei wrote in court documents. “The defendant’s involvement was not extensive, but did occur over a significant period of time and was criminal in nature.”

Neither Rogers nor Moffa was charged for unlawful gambling. Both have pleaded guilty and await sentencing for conspiring to bribe a public official.

Moffa was the first of eight defendants to plead guilty in the investigation. Last week, his sentencing was postponed until June 3. May 13 is the trial date for the four defendants who have pleaded not guilty.

In court documents, defense lawyer Richard Meehan argues that since Moffa was the first to plead, he should be given leniency. Moffa’s guilty plea was followed by similar pleas by Rogers and David Monteiro, a Waterbury business owner, who provided one of the $2,500 checks to the campaign in exchange for cash.

“Moffa concedes that he agreed to provide a $2,500 conduit contribution,” Meehan wrote in a sentencing document. In conversations with Harry “Ray” Soucy, the other Correction Department officer who cooperated with federal investigators and agreed to wear a wire, Moffa agreed to bring in about $10,000 to the campaign, “followed by additional payments if they were ‘happy’.”

But Meehan says his client was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

“It was mere serendipity that he was present at Smoke House Tobacco on November 2, 2011,” Meehan wrote in court documents last week. “He had stopped there that day to smoke a cigar, as that was a frequent haunt of his. There was no earlier discussion that he would recommend Soucy to the RYO owners, or that he had any interest in their legislative issues.”

Moffa was the one who recommended to the smoke shop owners that they get Soucy involved in the scheme to kill the roll-your-own tobacco legislation, which shop owners claimed would have put the tobacco shops out of business. There were 15 shops in Connecticut. It’s unclear whether any have closed since the passage of the legislation in a special session.

“Unfortunately in an effort to appear to be a ‘shaker and mover’ with political connections, and out of an inflated sense of braggadocio, he insinuated himself into a conversation that did not involve him and led to the introduction of Soucy to the conspiracy,” Meehan wrote.

The federal government has an audio recording of Moffa speaking with Soucy and a cooperating witness, bragging about how he “had ‘a lot of clout’ with Joe Aresimonwicz to assist in thwarting any harmful legislation.”

Meehan argues this is a further example of “Moffa’s braggadocio; attempting to paint himself as a connected, political insider.”

There is no evidence in the indictment or otherwise to contend that Aresimonwicz was the recipient of any inappropriate campaign contributions. Aresimonwicz is now the majority leader in the House, but at the time of the investigation he was a in charge of screening bills that could be called for a vote in the House.

Based on traditional sentencing guidelines, Moffa faces 24 to 30 months in prison and a fine of up to $50,000, but court documents show Meehan plans to argue for a period of home confinement followed by supervised release.

Mattei will recommend a sentence of 24 months, but believes that sentence should be served in prison rather than home confinement.

Home confinement does not take into consideration “the nature and circumstances of the offense, the history and characteristics of the defendant, the need for the sentence to reflect the seriousness of the offense, the need to promote general deterrence and respect for the law,” Mattei wrote in court documents.

Mattei argues that Moffa played an important role in the conspiracy by “recruiting” Soucy to assist the smoke shop owners and then counseling “Soucy and the RYO smoke shop owners as they developed a strategy to make corrupt payments to the campaign.”

According to a recorded conversation, the smoke shop owners were concerned about Donovan’s campaign knowing why it received the contributions.

“They know where it comes from. Listen, you have to understand, Ray’s going to work everything through the back door hook,” Moffa said according to court documents.

“Mr. Moffa entered the conspiracy with full knowledge of the conspiracy’s aims, volunteered to serve as a conduit contributor, counseled his fellow conspirators as they sought to maximize their corrupt influence and lied to the FBI when he was questioned about the conspiracy’s existence and his role in it,” Mattei wrote in his sentencing brief to the court.

In addition to lying to federal investigators about the contribution he made on behalf of his wife when first confronted with the charges, Moffa, according to Mattei, participated in an unlawful gambling operation involving Rogers.

Sentencing for Moffa was postponed until June 3. Jury selection for the trial involving the four defendants who have pleaded not guilty begins May 7 and the trial is scheduled to begin on May 13.