In secretly recorded conversations played Thursday in federal court, former House Speaker Chris Donovan claimed he “took care” of interests that illegally funneled money to his failed congressional campaign, but he denied he was behind killing the legislation they had sought to defeat.
Thursday marked the fourth day of the federal government’s trial against Robert Braddock Jr., the former finance director of Donovan’s unsuccessful 2012 campaign for Congress.
Braddock pleaded not guilty last summer to charges related to a conspiracy to hide the source of $27,500 in donations to Donovan’s campaign. The U.S. Attorney’s office alleges that a group of tobacco store owners tried to funnel money to Donovan’s campaign in order to the defeat legislation that would have increased taxes on roll-your-own cigarette shops.
Throughout the past year, Donovan has maintained his innocence and issued a statement Monday stressing that he has not been accused of wrongdoing. Recordings played in court for the first time Thursday indicate that the former House Speaker was aware the tobacco shop owners wanted him to kill the bill imposing new taxes on them.
Prosecutors played several interactions between Donovan and Harry ‘Ray’ Soucy, a former correction officer and union official who has admitted to instructing the tobacco shop owners in a plot to donate money to state lawmakers in an effort to defeat the legislation.
In a phone call recorded by the FBI on May 2, 2012, Soucy tells Donovan that he recently suffered a heart attack. He appeals to Donovan to help relieve his stress level by assuring him the tobacco shop legislation was dead. Soucy tells Donovan that the shop owners, whom he refers to as a “cross between vampires and vultures” were “harping on” him, looking for confirmation.
“I hear you, buddy,” Donovan answered, but did not elaborate.
In the recording, Soucy pushes Donovan for assurance again. He tells the House Speaker he wants to be able to report good news to the tobacco store owners.
“[The bill] hasn’t come up yet so, so far so good, let me put it to you that way. I haven’t heard a thing,” Donovan said.
“We’re working on it, absolutely,” he said later.
Soucy, who had at that point last year already been arrested and was working as a cooperating witness for the federal government, tried to get assurances from Donovan again. He tells Donovan that the store owners will “take care” of both Donovan and his retirement. Donovan said he “can’t say that,” apparently referring to the defeat of the bill, but added “it’s something I care about.”
“I hear you Ray, loud and clear, and I understand where they’re coming from, and we’re working for it,” Donovan said.
Prosecutors presented another call, recorded the next day between Soucy and Josh Nassi, Donovan’s former adviser and campaign manager. Nassi has already pleaded guilty to campaign corruption charges.
Soucy tells Nassi he spoke with Donovan and reiterates that the store owners had been “harping on” him about the bill.
“They can’t get it through their head that the speaker is not going to flat-out-say that he’s gonna kill the bill,” Soucy said.
He told Nassi that the shop owners had more donations for the Donovan campaign and the state Democratic party, but said that they wanted to wait until the legislative session was over or the bill was obviously dead. In a call recorded later in the session, Nassi told Soucy that “we’ve been sending the message out that the bill is dead.” Later, on the last day of session, Nassi said “we’ve been successful.”
U.S. Attorneys also played for the jury a video recorded by a camera secretly attached to Soucy on May 14. In the video, Soucy is entering the 5th Congressional District Democratic nominating convention. Delegates chose Donovan as the party-endorsed candidate. Soucy meets up with Nassi, and the two of them go behind a curtain on stage where Donovan was.
“Oh hey brother,” Donovan said to Soucy. “Look at ya, he’s walking and talking and everything. I took care of you didn’t I?”
In the courtroom, Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric Glover asked Soucy whether he had any recent business with Donovan aside from the tobacco store bill. Soucy said “no.” In the video, Soucy thanks Donovan for “killing the bill” and tells him he has brought more money to give to Nassi. Donovan said he did not “kill the bill.”
“I didn’t kill the bill I worked on the legislative side. I did what’s right,” he said.
Soucy left Donovan and met Nassi in another room where he handed over four $2,500 checks.
On Thursday, Donovan’s friend Audrey Honig Geragosian, who has been attending the court hearings and serving as his spokeswoman, said Donovan told her he was furious when he was approached by Soucy on the night of the convention and accused of killing the bill. She said Soucy had been “pressing and pressing” Donovan.
“Here Chris is, back stage on the most important political night of his life,” she said. “As soon as Soucy started talking about money, he said ‘I didn’t kill the bill.’ … He wanted to get away, he turned on his heels and walked away.”
Honig Geragosian said Donovan told Soucy he had taken care of it, in an effort to get Soucy away from him.