(Updated 3:52 p.m.) NEW HAVEN — The campaign consulting agreement at the center of the government’s criminal case against former Gov. John G. Rowland was unspoken, the government’s primary witness acknowledged in court Tuesday.
The admission came from Brian Foley, husband of 2012 congressional candidate Lisa Wilson-Foley and the owner of a successful chain of nursing homes. Rowland is facing charges that he conspired with Foley to work on his wife’s campaign but hid the work from election regulators.
During questions from Rowland’s lead attorney, Reid Weingarten, Foley admitted the campaign consulting agreement was unspoken.
“There was no language, ever. I never told him to do anything for the campaign, I never told him to go on the radio. I thought [the arrangement] was really clean,” Foley said.
Prosecutors contend that Rowland did work for the Wilson-Foley campaign — including attacking her opponents on his afternoon talk radio show on WTIC — while illegally accepting payments from her husband’s company.
“My intent was to do exactly that,” Foley said. “To have him paid through another company and not have to report it.”
But Weingarten is trying to make the case that Rowland was working legitimately for Foley’s nursing home company during the 2012 campaign. Meanwhile, Rowland’s efforts to help the campaign were legitimate volunteer efforts, he argues.
In his opening remarks, Weingarten told the jury that Foley handed Rowland to the feds in a “staggeringly cynical” move when he was facing charges of his own. Both Foley and his wife have pleaded guilty to related charges.
During Tuesday’s proceedings, Weingarten got Foley to admit that the charges against him were serious and had exposed him and close family members to prosecution. Weingarten asked whether Foley stopped defending his arrangement with Rowland after Foley’s children were subpoenaed by a federal grand jury.
“Following that event . . . you realized how massively exposed you were as a result of your own crimes. You went from defending your relationship with Mr. Rowland to incriminating him. Fair?” Weingarten asked.
Foley agreed that was about the time he began cooperating with the feds. Foley eventually pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges, but he was accused of making conduit donations to his wife’s campaign through friends and family members. The straw donors included his children and sister, who was interviewed by the FBI.
Foley said he was hoping that he and his wife would receive a light sentence in exchange for his cooperation.
“Isn’t it true you had conversations with your staff where you said the misdemeanor you pled to, it was like ‘pulling a lobster from a lobster pot or running through a stop sign?’” Weingarten asked.
Foley denied the comment about the stop sign, but defended the lobster trap remarks as an effort to minimize the impact of the federal investigation on his business. “This whole case has had a multi-million effect on our company,” he said.
Weingarten tried cast doubt on the integrity of Foley’s testimony. He questioned Foley on letters, which his lawyer wrote to prosecutors. The letters defended the relationship with Rowland.
Foley admitted he tried to mislead his lawyer and prosecutors in order to deter an investigation.
For a second day, Foley testified that Rowland’s overt help on the campaign was expected to have negative consequences. The former governor resigned in 2004 and served 10 months in prison on corruption charges. In emails admitted as evidence, Rowland told Foley, “I get it, let’s you and I meet.” Foley told the court he took that as an understanding of a covert arrangement.
“Are you a mind reader?” Weingarten asked him.
Foley said that based on the actions Rowland took after they began a business consulting agreement, he believed there was an understanding for campaign work. Weingarten offered a different interpretation.
“Could he ‘get’ that he’s too controversial to work on Lisa’s campaign and take your offer to work for Apple as a wonderful consolation prize and could he have wanted to do everything he could to help Lisa win her campaign?” Weingarten asked.
Later, Rowland’s attorney grilled Foley on a September 2011 meeting with Rowland to discuss a consulting contract.
“Did you ever say, ‘John you know this is all a sham. It’s a joke. It’s all a subterfuge for you to work on the campaign’,” Weingarten asked.
“I never said those words to anyone at anytime,” Foley answered.
Throughout his cross-examination, Foley maintained that he would never have hired Rowland as a consultant to his nursing home company, if he had not considered the former governor to be “primarily a benefit to the campaign.”
But Weingarten pointed to a series of emails in October 2011 in which Foley engaged Rowland for advice on the interests of both the nursing home business and the Wilson-Foley campaign.
At the time the campaign was planning a press release criticizing Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s administration and Democrats. Foley asked the campaign to hold off on antagonizing the Malloy administration until he could touch base with Rowland.
“What you wanted is to talk to Mr. Rowland about protecting Apple?” Weingarten asked. Foley agreed.
Weingarten pointed to other exchanges in which Rowland appears to be working on behalf of Apple Rehab. He asked Foley whether the communications were real work by Rowland, or a cover for a secret campaign arrangement.
“Did you send this email to Mr. Rowland because you were paranoid the FBI was looking over your shoulder or because you wanted to communicate substantive information to him,” he asked. Foley said it was real work.
However, Foley admitted to being paranoid at times about federal investigators finding out about the arrangement. He recalled one phone conversation where Rowland floated the idea of Foley paying him a $10,000 bonus if Wilson-Foley won the Republican convention. Foley said he feigned phone interference.
Foley told the court it sounded like a “red flag” that could connect the Apple contract with the campaign. Weingarten asked if Foley had believed federal agents could have been monitoring his phone lines.
“I did actually. I thought my phone could be tapped,” he said.
“So you’re a little paranoid and you were shocked Mr. Rowland would be talking about this on the phone,” Weingarten said.