Federal prosecutors asked a judge this week to deny former Gov. John G. Rowland’s request to dismiss campaign corruption charges against him. Prosecutors called Rowland’s arguments “unconvincing,” but said he could make them to a jury.
Last month, Rowland’s attorneys filed a motion to dismiss seven federal charges relating to consulting work the former governor performed in 2012 for 5th Congressional District candidate Lisa Wilson-Foley. The work and Rowland’s $35,000 compensation weren’t reported to election regulators.
The government says Rowland “devised a scheme” to work for Republican congressional candidates and even drew up phony contracts to hide his involvement from the regulators.
However, Rowland’s lawyers challenged all seven counts of alleged wrongdoing and asked Judge Ellen Bree Burns to dismiss the case. They disputed the government’s claim that the former governor had executed any fraudulent contracts. Although the documents are cited in the government’s indictment, Rowland’s attorneys insist they were never signed and were written broadly enough to encompass any campaign consultant work he did.
In one of six motions filed this week by the government, Assistant U.S. Attorney Liam Brennan said Rowland could tell that to a jury.
“This is an issue for trial. The defendant claims that the provisions of the draft contract are so wide ranging and open ended that they would encompass working on Candidate 2’s campaign. This argument, however unconvincing, is an argument that the defendant can make to a jury,” the document reads.
The evidence against Rowland includes the texts of several emails sent from the former governor as he aggressively, but unsuccessfully, tried to involve another candidate, Mark Greenberg. In Greenberg’s case, Rowland proposed to work on behalf of his campaign while entering into a contract purporting to work for “The Simon Foundation,” Greenberg’s animal rescue center in Bloomfield.
Last year, an attorney for Rowland sent prosecutors a copy of the proposed contract as evidence Rowland intended to work for the shelter, according to the recent court documents.
“Indeed, the government expects to prove that the proposed contract was not only created to obstruct justice, but that it was actually used for that very purpose,” the document reads.
Prosecutors also have communications between Rowland, Wilson-Foley and her husband, Brian Foley, as they drafted and entered a contract through the law offices of an attorney for Brian Foley’s nursing home company. Earlier this year, the Foley’s pleaded guilty to related charges and implicated Rowland.
Court documents from the Wilson-Foley case suggest Rowland tried to conceal his involvement with the campaign while accepting payments for work he was purporting to do for Foley’s nursing home.
“I am just a volunteer helping you and ‘many other Republican candidates’ in case anyone asks,” Rowland emailed Wilson-Foley in November 2011. “I want to stay under the radar as much as possible and get the job done.”
Prosecutors insist the contracts described in the indictment are “tangible and real” and far from just a “thought crime,” as Rowland’s attorney’s have argued.
Throughout the new court documents, the U.S. attorneys were often dismissive of arguments made by Rowland’s attorneys, which they characterize as far-fetched. They describe one argument as based on an “imaginary” premise and another an invitation to “enter a parallel universe and imagine” a scenario which the government was never trying to prove.
In addition to Rowland’s motion to dismiss, prosecutors responded to a request by his attorneys for stricter jury selection tools. Rowland’s legal team has asked the court to issue a written questionnaire for the potential jury pool and permit individual interviews with jurors. They also want five additional peremptory challenges and at least four alternate jurors.
The request is based on media coverage of Rowland’s case, which his lawyers contend has been unsympathetic and has often mentioned the former governor’s prior corruption charges. He served 10 months in federal prison on a conspiracy charge after resigning the governor’s office in 2004.
Prosecutors accused Rowland attorney Reid Weingarten of “fueling” the news media coverage by making a statement to reporters on the steps of a federal courthouse in April.
The U.S. attorneys also point out that Rowland’s lawyers are seeking more peremptory challenges than the number awarded to lawyers for Zacharias Moussaoui, a man who pleaded guilty to plotting the 9/11 terrorism attacks.
“That is, in the prosecution of the most heinous crime in American history, the trial court awarded two additional peremptory challenges. The defendant in this case seeks five additional peremptory challenges,” the document said.
Rowland was released from prison in 2006 and took a job as director of economic development for the city of Waterbury in 2008. Two years later he began working as the host of an afternoon drive political talk show on WTIC. Rowland resigned from that job in April amidst calls from many, including Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, for WTIC to remove him from the airwaves.