Peter Hvizdak / New Haven Register photo
Lisa Wilson-Foley arrives at court for her sentencing (Peter Hvizdak / New Haven Register photo)

Former congressional candidate Lisa Wilson-Foley was sentenced Tuesday to five months in prison for her role in a scheme to hide former Gov. John G. Rowland’s involvement in her campaign.

“I just cannot agree that being a candidate for U.S. Congress, being captain of that ship, is a minor role,” Judge Janet Bond Arterton told Wilson-Foley on Tuesday when she sentenced her to five months in prison followed by five months of home confinement.

Wilson-Foley pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge and called herself “naïve” during the sentencing. She told the judge that in 2011, when she first decided to run for the 5th Congressional District seat ultimately taken by current U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Etsy, she would never have envisioned “the steep climb and long fall I had before me.”

While prosecutors said Wilson-Foley had “described it as a record-keeping violation,” the federal government said Rowland’s relationship with a company owned by Wilson-Foley’s husband, a consulting job for which the former governor received $35,000, constituted an attempt to violate election law.

“This is about Ms. Wilson-Foley wanting to turn the election process on its head,” U.S. Attorney Christopher Mattei told Arterton on Tuesday.

Following the sentencing, Michael J. Gustafson, first assistant U.S. Attorney for the district of Connecticut, addressed the media standing on the steps of the courthouse.

“Today’s sentencing marks the end of yet another chapter in law enforcement’s efforts to expose and eradicate corrupt criminal practices in Connecticut’s electoral process,” he said. “Lisa Wilson-Foley was a candidate for one of the five seats Connecticut has in Congress. She’s been sentenced to jail today for her participation in a conspiracy that sought to hide from her would-be constituents the fact that thousands of dollars were being paid to a shadow operative who, in addition to many things, used his position on the public airwaves to support her candidacy, to denigrate her closest competitors’ candidacies. Simply put, this cannot happen.”

Gustafson continued: “Elections aren’t a game. We have election laws for a reason. There has to be transparency so voters can know that what they see is what they get.”

During Tuesday’s sentencing hearing, lawyers for Wilson-Foley maintained her ignorance of the illegal relationship between Rowland and the health care company run by her husband, Brian Foley.

Wilson-Foley’s attorneys argued that she was “kept in the dark” by her husband, who was called the “architect” of the conspiracy.

“We have three conspirators. I don’t think there can be any doubt that the least involved was Lisa Wilson Foley,” her attorney argued.

Arterton asked if making sure she was unaware of illegal actions conducted on her behalf served to release Wilson-Foley from responsibility for those actions.

“Willful blindness does not constitute lack of accountability,” she said.

Prosecutors countered that, quite the opposite, Wilson-Foley was made aware of the conspiracy during a 2012 conversation at campaign headquarters when it was decided that the contract between Apple Rehab and Rowland should be released to the New Haven Register.

“It’s clear that Ms. Wilson-Foley was the candidate,” prosecutors argued.

While the defense argued that Wilson-Foley had no knowledge of the illegal arrangement between her husband’s company and Rowland, prosecutors said they did not have all the evidence until recently, in particular knowledge of a conversation between Wilson-Foley and then-campaign manager Chris Syrek.

“Ms. Wilson-Foley came in and sat with the government and lied,” Mattei said.

“For whatever reason, Ms. Wilson-Foley seems incapable of candidly admitting what the trial evidence established,” prosecutors wrote in court documents. “In September 2011, she, her husband and Mr. Rowland had an understanding that Mr. Rowland would be paid for campaign work through Apple in order to prevent the public and the FEC from discovering the fact that Mr. Rowland was being paid to assist Ms. Wilson-Foley’s campaign.”

In fact, according to prosecutors, Wilson-Foley’s entire campaign was guided and shaped by Rowland.

“Mr. Rowland came up with every policy position that the campaign had,” Mattei said.

Friends and family issued tearful pleas for mercy, highlighting Wilson-Foley’s charitable works, friendship, and mentorship.

Former congressional candidate and television news anchor Janet Peckinpaugh said Wilson-Foley “has always been a wonderful mentor.” Torrington teacher and longtime Wilson-Foley friend Beth Daley said Wilson-Foley’s actions were a “complete aberration,” and that “Lisa wanted to be the child who did things right.”

Nancy Brown, Wilson-Foley’s sister, tearfully recalled their father’s fight with paranoid schizophrenia and her sister’s efforts to step up as the family required.

“I pray with all my heart that you will give mercy to Lisa for all the good that she has done for so many people,” Brown said.

Wilson-Foley will surrender to a U.S. Marshal on July 1. Through her attorneys she requested to be sent to Alderson in West Virginia where Martha Stewart served her five-month sentence. Stewart had requested Danbury when she was sent to Alderson, according to this CNN report.