(Updated 3 p.m.) NEW HAVEN — A federal judge with a reputation for being tough on corruption decided to abide by less restrictive sentencing guidelines Wednesday when she gave former Gov. John G. Rowland 30 months in prison for hiding campaign work from election regulators.
The sentence comes 10 years after his first sentencing on charges related to illegally accepting gifts while in office.
In this, his second felony conviction, Rowland was fined $35,000 and must surrender on June 16 to begin his incarceration. Rowland was unapologetic and opted not to speak during Wednesday’s hearing. He will file a motion to be free on bond while his attorneys work on an appeal.
In sentencing Rowland, Judge Janet Bond Arterton said her decision had nothing to do with his past conviction. She said it was about violations of federal campaign laws.
“The court has received many letters in the course of this prosecution and one of them read: ‘I don’t believe anyone was honestly hurt in this latest conviction’,” Arterton said. “This is a different kind of crime from street crime or financial fraud, but I disagree that nobody was hurt.”
She said what she found “striking and disturbing” about the case was Rowland’s total “contempt” for the Federal Election Commission reporting laws and his use of his radio show to try to give his client, Lisa Wilson-Foley, an advantage in her campaign to win the Republican nomination for the 5th Congressional District.
Rowland was convicted of failing to report work he did for Wilson-Foley’s congressional campaign in 2012. Rowland was found guilty of working as an adviser to her campaign and arranging to be compensated through a contract with her husband’s successful healthcare company. The candidate and her husband, Brian Foley, pleaded guilty last year to related charges.
Foley testified during Rowland’s trial that the former governor’s contract was a sham designed to pay him for campaign work.
Rowland’s lawyers had recently argued in court documents that prosecutors withheld information from them regarding the consulting contract and Wilson-Foley’s perception of the work the former governor was doing for her husband and the campaign.
Rowland declined an opportunity to speak on his behalf Wednesday, while his attorney Reid Weingarten told the court that what happened in the case amounted to nothing more than a “civil matter” with the Federal Elections Commission. He said there never should have been an indictment and he wondered why the co-conspirators in the case, like Foley, were charged with lesser crimes.
Weingarten said Foley admitted during the trial to the largest conduit contribution he could recall. Foley testified that he transferred $500,000 to his wife to use on her failed congressional campaign. Weingarten speculated that the federal government had a “near obsession” with Rowland and believed the sentence he received in 2005 for accepting illegal gifts while in office wasn’t harsh enough.
Maybe he was “too noisy and too aggressive on his radio show,” Weingarten said.
U.S. Attorney Liam Brennan said the court heard “no contrition” from Rowland Wednesday.
After Wednesday’s proceedings were over, Rowland’s wife, Patty, told Brennan to “burn in hell.”
Outside the courtroom, Pastor Will Marotti, who co-hosted the WTIC 1080AM radio show with Rowland, told reporters that he doesn’t believe his friend should apologize.
“I don’t think any law was broken,” Marotti said.
Inside the courtroom, Marotti told Arterton that Rowland “ is not a bad man. He is not a deceptive or manipulative person as some have tried to portray him.” Instead, Marotti said Rowland was a “casualty of circumstances.”
Brennan told Arterton that the sentencing guidelines, which allowed for 24 to 30 months, are flawed and should allow for a harsher sentence. He said Rowland was running a “shadow campaign” and hasn’t learned much since his past conviction.
Rowland, who co-hosted WTIC’s afternoon radio show, had by all accounts made a “comeback.” But prosecutors argued in court documents that instead of learning from his past mistakes he fell back into old habits.
“In the government’s view, Mr. Rowland is an individual who simply refuses to ‘play it straight,’ because he delights in the illicit, dark side of politics where rules are for suckers, the public good is an afterthought, the game is all that matters, and he is the indispensable player of that game,” the U.S. attorneys wrote in a December sentencing memo.
In court Wednesday, Brennan described Rowland as “an operative leveraging his influence not just with party delegates, but over the airwaves,” Brennan said.
The only reason it ended was “because the conspirators got caught,” Brennan said, adding that Rowland was unwilling to take responsibility for being involved in a crime that spanned two campaigns. He said the conviction stems not only from his work for Wilson-Foley in 2012, but jurors also convicted him for trying to come up with a similar working relationship with Republican Mark Greenberg in 2010, during his bid for the same congressional seat.
Prosecutors sought a harsher sentence of 40 to 46 months, but Arterton decided to apply guidelines that allowed for between 24 and 30 months.
Through his attorneys, Rowland requested that he serve his time at the Federal Bureau of Prisons facility in Otisville, N.Y.