Screen grab from union video

NEW HAVEN — The former correction officer who was described as a “creep” and “diabolical” by a defense attorney earlier this week took the stand Wednesday and detailed a scheme to bribe Connecticut lawmakers.

Harry ‘Ray’ Soucy, 61, testified in the trial of former House Speaker Chris Donovan’s campaign finance director, Robert Braddock Jr., and described how he coached smoke shop owners to bribe Connecticut lawmakers.

In a recording played in court Wednesday, Soucy told the group of smoke shop owners trying to defeat legislation: “If you’re going to deal in politics you have to deal at the higher levels and in my opinion politics costs money. I told them $10,000 would be a good starting figure to have a meeting with Chris Donovan.”

Soucy, who lives in Naugatuck with his mother, helped the FBI gather information starting last April. He was himself recorded by federal authorities for several months before he knew the FBI was even listening.

Soucy’s involvement in the scheme started in November 2011 at the back of a smoke shop in Waterbury. He testified Wednesday that he was recommended by his former union boss, David Moffa, as someone who understood the political process and could help the smoke shop owners get a meeting with top lawmakers in Hartford.

The smoke shop owners were concerned that a judge may not rule in their favor in a lawsuit the Department of Revenue Services filed against Tracey’s Smoke Shop in Norwalk. They wanted to make sure the legislature didn’t jump in with legislation that would classify them as “manufacturers” and increase the taxes on their cigarettes.

Soucy, who bragged about his connections to politicians in Hartford, called and left a message on Donovan’s personal cellphone during that first meeting. Donovan called back 10 minutes later and told him Josh Nassi, Donovan’s congressional campaign manager and former legislative chief of staff, would call him back to schedule a meeting.

Soucy testified that he told Nassi he had some friends who wanted to sit down and talk with Donovan and they understand campaigns costs money. Soucy said that was meant to imply they would be making a donation to the campaign. They eventually did, but those donations were made through straw donors and not the smoke shop owners themselves.

Donovan denies any knowledge of the bribery scheme and has not been charged in the case. But Nassi and six other individuals, including Soucy, pleaded guilty to federal conspiracy charges. Braddock is the only one charged in the scheme who has taken the case to trial.

In the recordings played Wednesday by U.S. Attorney Eric Glover, Soucy bragged to smoke shop owners Paul Rogers and Patrick Castagna that “no one knows this game better than me.”

The recordings and text messages with elected officials demonstrated the amount of clout Soucy felt he had as a longtime union official who spent 19 years in the Correction Department.

At the end of February when the outcome of the smoke shop lawsuit seemed to be moving in favor of the shop owners, they turned to Soucy and asked him for advice on their next move. Soucy told them in order to ensure the “legislation stayed buried” they should give Donovan $10,000 more and $5,000 to Republicans.

“If you want to do anything on the other side of the aisle it can’t be by check,” Soucy told Castagna in one of the recorded phone conversations.

Soucy talked the smoke shop owners out of hiring a lobbyist, which he estimated would cost them between $20,000 and $30,000.

“They ain’t going to call a lobbyist back in 20-minutes,” Soucy said.

Soucy scheduled a meeting with House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero. With Castagna and Rogers in tow, Soucy testified that he left $5,000 in cash in Cafero’s fridge at the Legislative Office Building after the meeting. He said Cafero accepted the cash, but had a staffer meet with him at the Officer’s Club across the street to instruct him how to properly make a donation.

Cafero said Wednesday that it’s absolutely not true. He never left money in the refrigerator.

“I have no idea what he’s talking about,” Cafero said. “It’s a blatant lie.”

Soucy said Cafero’s staffer John Healey returned the $5,000 in cash, which was later turned into $5,000 in checks for three Republican PACs. Cafero, who has not been charged, gave the checks back immediately after his May 31 interview with the FBI when he learned about the investigation.

Cafero said he was told by the FBI that he did “everything right and was not the subject of the investigation.”

Democratic Majority Leader Joseph Aresimowicz’s name also came up several times Wednesday. Soucy introduced Aresimowicz to the smoke shop owners at a fundraiser at the Waterbury Marriott last year. They gave him a Cuban cigar, which Aresimowicz said he enjoyed in later recordings of phone conversations between him and Soucy.

At the time Aresimowicz was the assistant majority leader vying for majority leader. He was also a member of the Finance Committee which later introduced a bill to clarify the court’s decision and turn the smoke shop owners into “manufacturers.”

On April 3, 2012, Aresimowicz texted Soucy to let him know the committee took up the legislation.

Soucy said Donovan received “10 large” to prevent the legislation.

“I know,” Aresimowicz texted back. After a little more back and forth he texted: “I will talk to Chris.”

Aresimowicz has not been charged in the case.

At this point in the investigation, Soucy still didn’t know the FBI was recording his conversations. Soucy didn’t start cooperating with the FBI until April 25 when he learned at the Omni Hotel in New Haven that one of the smoke shop investors was really an undercover FBI agent.

Aresimowicz declined to comment today, but Rose Ryan, his spokesperson, released the following statement Wednesday evening:

“He has talked with federal prosecutors in the past. As the trial is ongoing, it would be inappropriate at this point to talk about this matter further,” Ryan wrote.

The trial continues Thursday with Soucy still in the witness stand.