A Waterbury police detective who co-owned a smoke shop was sentenced Wednesday to more than two years in prison for his role in a scheme to direct illegal congressional campaign donations to former House Speaker Chris Donovan.
George Tirado, 36, of Wolcott, was sentenced to 26 months in prison and fined $5,000. Ben Hogan, 34, an employee and part-owner of Smoke House Tobacco, also was sentenced Wednesday. He was given 21 months in prison and fined $5,000.
Both men pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge along with five other men who, according to prosecutors, sought to funnel money to Donovan’s congressional campaign in order to kill legislation that would have been detrimental to their roll-your-own cigarette operation. The shop owners were not requiring customers to pay the manufacturer’s tax on the RYO cigarettes produced by the machines in their smoke shops.
The legislation the smoke shop owners sought to stop would have increased the taxes on roll-your-own cigarettes. But the bill to increase the tax was eventually passed and signed into law during a special session in June 2012 after lawmakers learned of the attempts to kill the legislation from a federal affidavit released after Robert Braddock Jr., Donovan’s former finance director, was arrested.
Donovan has not been charged in the conspiracy and has maintained that he knew nothing about it.
Braddock, the only defendant to take his case to trial, was sentenced in August to 38 months in prison for his role in the conspiracy. A jury convicted Braddock in May on three counts of conspiring to conceal the source of $27,500 in conduit, or “straw,” campaign donations.
Tirado and Hogan’s sentences Wednesday were in line with what Judge Janet Arterton handed down to Braddock and at least one other defendant in the case. David Moffa, the former correction officer and union official, was given two years in prison for his role in the scheme.
Although prosecutors noted that Moffa was not the most culpable member of the conspiracy, Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Mattei argued at his sentencing in June that Moffa was aware of the conspiracy and he engaged in it.
Moffa is notable in that he was the one to solicit the involvement of Harry “Ray” Soucy in the conspiracy. Soucy, another ex-correction officer and union official, served as the primary architect of the plot to bribe lawmakers, including Donovan. Soucy won’t be sentenced until Oct. 31.
As for Tirado, “a substantial prison term is warranted for any individual who violates federal campaign finance laws in order to influence elected officials for personal gain,” Acting U.S. Attorney Daly said Wednesday in a press release. “That this defendant was a veteran police detective who ignored his oath and broke the law makes this sentence even more appropriate.”
James Glasser, Tirado’s attorney, argued for a “sentence of probation with a substantial component of home confinement and community service.” In his sentencing memo to the court, Glasser said his client already lost his job and career and as a result caused financial stress for his family.
But prosecutors weren’t moved by the argument.
“While Tirado’s level of activity in the conspiracy may have been more limited than others, it is equally clear that his role was deeper and more insidious given his substantial financial interest in the conspiracy’s corrupt goal to thwart RYO legislation,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric Glover wrote in his memo to the court. “And even as to activity, Tirado filled out straw contributions checks, had a key meeting with Chris Donovan and Rob Braddock, had discussions with Paul Rogers and Pat Castagna about the potential need to give more illegal contributions after the initial $10,000 illegal contributions, and lied to the FBI in June 2012 when he was questioned about the conspiracy’s existence and his role in it after Braddock was arrested.”
FBI Special Agent in Charge Kimberly Mertz said that instead of upholding the law, “George Tirado betrayed his oath of honor when he conspired with others to direct illegal campaign contributions. This conduct threatens to undermine both the public’s faith in the election process and in law enforcement.”
Mertz continued: “Today’s sentence sends a clear message to those of us who are sworn to uphold the law, that no one is above the law.”
The next defendant in the case, Josh Nassi, is Donovan’s former campaign manager and confidant. He is scheduled to be sentenced Sept. 17.