(Updated 2:29 p.m.) Joshua Nassi, the campaign manager and longtime aide to former House Speaker Chris Donovan, made a tearful apology Thursday before a federal court judge sentenced him to more than two years in prison for campaign corruption.
Nassi, 35, was sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge Janet Arterton to 28 months in prison and asked to pay a $6,000 fine.
Nassi was one of seven men charged with conspiring to hide the source of $27,500 in contributions to Donovan’s unsuccessful 2012 bid for Connecticut’s 5th congressional district seat. Donovan was not charged in the conspiracy.
“Character has been said to be what you do when nobody is looking and here, unbeknownst to Mr. Nassi, the FBI was looking and listening and watching and the result was Mr. Nassi and the others got caught in this ludicrously crass effort to corrupt,” Arterton said.
Nassi spoke during an emotional sentencing hearing, which also saw his mother, brother, and fiancee vouch for his remorse and personal growth in the 15 months since authorities charged him.
More than a year later, Nassi said he was still asking himself how he ended up at the center of an illegal scheme to funnel straw donations into Donovan’s campaign for the owners of tobacco shops seeking to defeat state legislation that would have hurt their businesses.
He did not personally ask for leniency, saying it was impossible for him to stand in court and argue that he should not be punished when he sees his offenses as punishable.
“I hope people can forgive me and understand that our government is better than my actions and have faith in our system,” he said. “Let me be clear: I have failed all of you.”
William Bloss, Nassi’s attorney, did ask the judge for leniency. He pointed to the work Nassi has done on behalf of good government in his capacity as a lawyer and Donovan’s chief of staff in the legislature. He said his client’s actions with regard to the case ran counter to his personality.
Bloss also alluded to the strict punishments Arterton doled out to other defendants involved in the conspiracy. So far she has handed down terms of incarceration to each ranging from 21 to 38 months. Bloss said he was skeptical of how effective strict punishments are in deterring crime generally.
“I think the message has been sent, your honor, to the extent that anybody is capable and willing to listen to the message,” he said.
Arterton disagreed, saying fear of prison may make a difference in a state that has already seen too much public corruption.
“You remember awhile back it was called ‘Corrupticut,’” she said. “That’s not Connecticut.”
Bloss characterized Nassi as a young man who was not prepared for the stress and pressures that accompany managing a high-profile and competitive congressional campaign.
“He was scared and frankly in over his head. He made substantial and serious mistakes,” Bloss said.
Assistant U.S. Chris Mattei rejected that description of Nassi, calling him “one of the most effective operatives in Hartford.” He said Nassi’s crime was not a momentary lapse in judgment.
“Over course of months, Mr. Nassi led an effort to tank legislation in exchange for political contributions,” he said.
Arterton agreed. She said people working in positions of public trust need to maintain their “moral compass.”
“You can not check it at the door of Spartan’s restaurant,” she said, referring to one of the locations where Nassi accepted illegal donations. “This was not a hard call.”
In his remarks to the court, Nassi did not disagree.
“I should have rejected the contributions as soon as I found out they were not legitimate. It was my duty and responsibility,” he said. “It was a moment where I was being tested and I failed.”
Arterton ordered Nassi to turn himself in to authorities on Oct. 30 to begin his sentence. He was the fifth defendant to be sentenced in the case.