Now that the greatest Connecticut political corruption trial of my generation has concluded and will likely result in significant jail time for the convict, I can relax, listen to WTIC and wait for its former employee’s sentencing, right?
Well, not really. The panoply of issues surrounding the second conviction in 10 years of former Gov. John Rowland compels me to unburden myself.
Perhaps the most interesting recent revelation is the fact that in making their case for a harsh sentence for the chronically felonious ex-governor, federal officials revealed that, at the time he landed the phony consulting deal that got him into his present mess, Rowland was already pulling down in the neighborhood of $420,000 a year.
Those earnings did not make Rowland a dreaded one-percenter, but they got him pretty close. According to the federal sentencing memo, “Rowland earned more money than 98% of all Americans.” Unfortunately for the curious among us, the feds did not say how Rowland earned those big bucks.
It’s hard to believe he earned all that money from his gig as a talk-show host on top-rated CBS affiliate WTIC-AM 1080. Granted, Rowland was doing a drive-time gig before the station belatedly showed him the door for his chicanery, so the station had more cash to throw at Rowland than, say, Jim Vicevich at midday. Still, we’re talking about a relatively small market in which it’s unlikely that even the top television news anchors in the state make that much.
It’s possible Rowland was in-demand as a speaker. After resigning as governor and getting out of jail the first time, he signed with Premiere Speakers Bureau, which represents Magic Johnson, Bryant Gumbel, and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, on whose Fox News show Rowland made a guest appearance to show contrition and condemn his own arrogance. At the time of his 2006 release from a federal prison in Loretto, Penn., Rowland had a story of redemption to tell.
Next time Rowland emerges from incarceration he’ll likely be in his early 60s and a two-time jailbird who took a great risk just to score $35,000 in a consulting gig for congressional candidate Lisa Wilson-Foley, whose husband Brian was paying Rowland through his healthcare company to avoid the embarrassment of having a convicted felon on the campaign payroll.
Why would a guy making more than $400,000 a year risk going back to the poky for such a piddling amount of money? Federal prosecutors think they have the answer — and it’s something no reasonable person could disagree with.
“Mr. Rowland had hopes of rebuilding his political influence and becoming relevant in the world of Connecticut politics. This desire was so powerful that Mr. Rowland once again cast aside the public good and his legal obligations to satisfy his own arrogance and hunger for being at the center of political action.”
Now as he awaits his sentencing, Rowland faces the battle of his life. Last time around, he served only 10 months after pleading guilty to a single corruption count — even amid evidence that the scope of his corruption was far greater.
It looks like Rowland and his high-priced lawyer Reid Weingarten made a serious miscalculation. They were so convinced that Rowland would be let off the hook by a sympathetic jury that they rebuffed a plea bargain. So, after convicting him on all seven corruption counts, the feds are looking to make Rowland pay with a sentence of between 40 and 46 months, while Rowland’s lawyers are begging for less than 18 months.
After his September conviction, at which Rowland is said to be “shocked,” his defense team sent out email blasts to Rowland’s fans seeking letter writers who would attest to Judge Janet Bond Arterton as to “John’s character and accomplishments, such as his commitment to his family, friends, former constituents and the community, his community services and charitable activities, etc.” Ninety of them were submitted to the court. Here’s a sampling of 19 of them.
The email solicitation also had a bit of wise advice: “Please refrain from criticizing the government prosecutors.” It’s a little late for that, wouldn’t you say? When prosecutors have the goods on you and you refuse a plea bargain, they typically take it as a sign of disrespect.
No, Rowland should receive the maximum sentence. Full disclosure: Despite the fact that I had been critical of him, Rowland was always very nice to me when I was a guest on his radio show, including twice in-studio for two-hour stretches.
But he has betrayed the public trust a second time and should pay an even greater price. And WTIC has embarrassed itself by being his enabler. For the sake of Connecticut broadcasting, we can only hope that CBS sells the station so that WTIC can begin its own redemption.