by Jennifer Swift
Apr 11, 2014
06:06 PM
Connecticut Politics

John Rowland pleads not guilty to illegal campaign schemes

John Rowland pleads not guilty to illegal campaign schemes

Peter Hvizdak

Former Gov. John G. Rowland, right, arrives with his attorney Reid Weingarten, far left, at the Federal Courthouse in New Haven.

The drumbeat of allegations against felon and former Gov. John G. Rowland came to a crescendo Friday as Rowland made his first appearance in federal court to answer a series of federal campaign law violations that could put him behind bars for the rest of his life.

Rowland pleaded not guilty to seven charges that allege he sought to hide his involvement in two 2012 5th District congressional campaigns from the government.

A federal grand jury indicted Rowland Thursday, more than a year after news stories during the Republican primary race prompted an investigation. During the course of the short courtroom proceedings Friday, Rowland had to stand and tell U.S. District Court Judge Ellen Bree Burns his plea: “not guilty,” he said, before returning to his seat adjacent his attorney Reid Weingarten of Steptoe and Johnson in Washington, D.C.

Outside the courthouse, Weingarten vowed a fight.

“We are looking forward to it. Most of all we’re looking forward to this trial and we fully expect our client to be fully vindicated,” he said.

The indictment alleges that the 56-year-old Rowland devised schemes to work for the campaigns of Republicans Mark Greenberg in 2010 and Lisa Wilson-Foley in 2012. While Greenberg rejected Rowland’s offer, Wilson-Foley and her husband, Brian Foley, admitted to paying Rowland $35,000 through Brian Foley’s company in exchange for work on her campaign in 2011 and 2012. According to the indictment, the payments originated with Foley and constituted campaign contributions, but were not reported to the FEC in violation of federal campaign finance laws. The couple pleaded guilty last month to federal charges and cooperated in the investigation. They are scheduled to be sentenced in late June and face a maximum of one year in prison.

This isn’t Rowland’s first run in with the law. While impeachment loomed, Rowland resigned as governor and in 2004 served 10 months in federal prison after pleading guilty to corruption charges.

On Friday, when discussing scheduling for the trial, tentatively slated to begin June 10 with jury selection, Weingarten foreshadowed his fight on Rowland’s behalf.

“We are eager to go to trial,” Weingarten said, to which the judge responded, “So am I.”

Though Rowland’s defense waived reading the charges adamantly and repeatedly, the government persisted for the sake of “the record.” Weingarten said “this is unnecessary.”

The charges were read.

Rowland is charged with two counts of falsification of records in a federal investigation, conspiracy, two counts of causing false statements to be made to the Federal Elections Commission and two counts of causing illegal campaign contributions. If convicted on all counts, Rowland faces a maximum of 57 years in federal prison.

The judge noted it was an “interesting indictment.”

The government and Rowland’s defense came to an agreement to release the former governor on a $250,000 non-surety bond, and a restriction that he not travel outside of the state unless approved by the government.

No one answered the door at Rowland’s Middlebury home Friday morning, though his wife, Patricia, drove away from the home at around noon, a few hours prior to Rowland’s 2:30 p.m. court appearance. She was not present in court Friday.

Thursday, as Patricia Rowland retrieved a newspaper and mail at the bottom of the couple’s meandering driveway, she told the New Haven Register, “We haven’t had our day in court yet.”

Friday, the paper went uncollected. News of Rowland’s indictment was splashed across the front page of the Republican-American, resting in his own newspaper box.

Weingarten said that for “all intents and purposes…[Rowland is] charged with being improperly involved in two different campaigns.”

Regarding the Greenberg campaign, Weingarten said there are no allegations the governor worked or received money for that campaign. Weingarten laid the onus on Wilson-Foley to accurately report contributions and expenditures to the FEC.

“She, the candidate, had an obligation to disclose to the FEC in her legal mandated reports that Governor Rowland is helping her. He had no responsibility whatsoever to file anything, yet she has been allowed to plea to a misdemeanor. He, while working for her husband and doing real work, is facing 37 years in prison for a case involving her FEC returns,” Weingarten said. “We will have an aggressive challenge to these charges.”

 

 

John Rowland pleads not guilty to illegal campaign schemes

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