It wasn’t a collective sigh of relief, but lawmakers at the state Capitol were glad to be free from the distraction created by a federal corruption trial that ended in a guilty verdict on Tuesday.
A jury found former House Speaker Chris Donovan’s congressional campaign finance director, Robert Braddock Jr., guilty on all counts.
The trial lasted more than a week in New Haven federal court and presented some challenges at the state Capitol, even for members of the House who were not charged by the government but found themselves on the other end of secretly taped conversations.
“I fully trust the jury weighed all the evidence and came up with a decision based upon that,” House Majority Leader Joseph Aresimowicz said.
Aresimowicz, who belongs to the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, was secretly recorded by the federal government speaking to a former correction officer-turned-FBI-informant Harry “Ray” Soucy. Soucy was a member of the same union and two referred to each other as “brother” on the recordings.
The two were recorded speaking and texting about legislation the smoke shop owners sought to defeat through their contributions to Donovan’s failed congressional campaign last year.
On Dec. 23, 2011, Soucy informs Aresimowicz that Donovan received $10,000 from the smoke shop owners. Then, on April 3, 2012, Aresimowicz informs Soucy by text message that there’s activity on the roll-your-own tobacco bill. Several texts are exchanged and Soucy lets him know another group of checks totaling $5,000 had been set up for Nassi, to which Aresimowicz replies: “Then we will fix it when Chris let’s me know.” Soucy then suggests that he’ll arrange for another $10,000 in donations.
“I think I’m relieved more for this building and the people who work so hard in it,” Aresimowicz said Tuesday afternoon.
House Speaker Brendan Sharkey said he thinks that the trial’s completion helps to “limit the amount of distractions we have here.”
The legislative session ends June 5 and the General Assembly is working on crafting a state budget that doesn’t raise taxes for the next two years.
Asked if he has spoken to Aresimowicz about possibly stepping down based on the evidence that was entered in the courtroom, Sharkey said he never had that conversation.
“I didn’t think it was warranted,” Sharkey said. “It’s pretty clear that the majority leader was not involved in any way certainly with regard to any influence, potentially, on the bill. Certainly, not on the activities that took place within the federal campaign of Chris Donovan.”
He said he doesn’t believe anyone in the House Democratic caucus felt otherwise about Aresimowicz’s ethics. He also pointed out that the position of majority leader is an elected position within the caucus.
Aresimowicz has pointed out that he voted in favor of the legislation when he was on the Finance Committee last April, against the wishes of the smoke shop owners. There was talk of giving Aresimowicz $3,000 for his help, but no donation was ever made.
The other House member captured on tape by the FBI was House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero.
Cafero — who has aspirations of a gubernatorial run — is captured on video speaking with Soucy and Norwalk smoke shop investor Patrick Castagna. Cafero appears to be aware that they are attempting to make a donation, and rather than accept an envelope inside the Legislative Office Building, Cafero instructs a subordinate to punch out and take a walk with Soucy where the transaction took place. Soucy testified last week that he tried to put $5,000 in cash in Cafero’s refrigerator.
“The video validated everything I said from the very beginning,” Cafero said Monday. “I did the right thing.”
However, he admitted that no one ever wants to see their name associated with a federal corruption case.
Cafero has said he thought the money was related to Soucy’s role with the Correction Department, but there’s no discussion of issues related to the Correction Department in the video. There is discussion of smoke shops and Cafero suggests that he might be a “future customer.”
Sen. Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, whose name did not come up in court last week, said “it’s another sad chapter in Connecticut.”
Seven individuals pleaded guilty to federal corruption charges. The eighth, Braddock, was found guilty by a jury.
“I say chapter because it’s just another event that erodes the public’s faith and trust in their government,” McKinney said.