New Haven – A federal judge Monday imposed a sentence of six months in a halfway house on Ray Soucy, the politically connected union official who coached smoke-shop owners to make illegal campaign contributions to keep their business tax-free, then helped the FBI secretly gather audio and video evidence against them.
U.S. District Judge Janet Bond Arterton acceded to a call for leniency by the prosecution and defense in recognition of the "extraordinary cooperation" Soucy offered the government, as well as Soucy's poor health, his role in caring for his elderly mother and the tightly circumscribed life he now lives as a pariah in the worlds of labor and politics.
"I'm not making any excuses for my conduct," Soucy told Arterton, reading from a statement in court. "I knew when I began it was both immoral and illegal. I still went forward."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric J. Glover told Arterton that she already had delivered a strong message to the political world with the prison sentences she's imposed on five others. Now, he said, it was time to send a secondary message about the importance of cooperating with the government.
"Cooperation is critical in public corruption cases," Glover said.
Soucy, 61, of Naugatuck, was a pivotal figure in the scandal that derailed the congressional campaign of former House Speaker Christopher G. Donovan, D-Meriden, tainted the General Assembly and sent Donovan’s campaign manager and chief fundraiser to prison.
Soucy's lawyer, Steven B. Rasile, had told the judge in a sentencing memo that his client, a recently retired correction officer and labor leader who once mixed easily in union circles and at the State Capitol, is now estranged from old friends and living in fear of going to prison marked as a government cooperator and ex-prison guard.
In court Monday, Rasile made a strong and at time times emotional plea for leniency, saying he surprised himself by concluding that Soucy deserved "a walk," not the prison sentence he first believed was inevitable. Glover did not object.
Rasile conceded that Soucy was crass, his behavior brazen, as FBI wiretaps and Soucy's own testimony in another defendant's trial amply showed. Rasile described listening to hours of Soucy's braggadocio and vulgar bluster on wiretaps.
"I kind of dismissed him because of his crass attitude," Rasile said.
Then he turned to the reporters in the courtroom and insisted there was a more complex, more sympathetic side of a man now known to the press and public only by his rough, Runyonesque dialogue captured on the wiretaps.
Rasile readily conceded the campaign finance scandal was a blow to the political and legislative process in Connecticut, but he told the judge that Soucy played a major role in helping the FBI and U.S. attorney's office make its case against seven others. Arterton, he said, needed to send a message that Soucy did the right thing when confronted by the FBI.
"The only way you can send that message is to send him home," Rasile said.
Arterton took a recesss, then returned about 15 minutes later read to pronounce sentence.
"All rise!" a clerk commanded.
Rasile and Soucy stood. Rasile reached to Soucy, a burly former Marine with a shaved head, and patted his back. Lawyer and defendant stepped forward as Arterton, wearing reading glasses, glanced at notes.
It is undisputed the offense was serious and that Soucy played a central role, she said.
"It apparently is true that Mr. Soucy's involvement in this political corruption scheme, this public corruption scheme, was nothing reflective of what he's ever done before," Arterton said.
Arterton said Soucy deserved credit for his cooperation, but he also deserved a form of imprisonment for his conduct, even if that meant something other than a federal penitentiary.
"Mr. Soucy has made his own prison, by his corrupt conduct as well as by his cooperation," she said.
She imposed a sentence of six months in a halfway house, three years' probation and a $5,000 fine.
In his sentencing memo, Rasile had only asked her to impose a sentence below the 24 months to 30 months in prison recommended by U.S. sentencing guidelines. He said Soucy faced abuse in prison as a former correction officer and he is in poor health, with a chronic back condition and significant coronary disease.
"Mr. Soucy respectfully asks this Court to take into consideration the undoubted prison abuse he will suffer, which will be seriously exacerbated given his fragile physical state," Rasile wrote.
Soucy was treasurer of AFSCME Local 387, the president of the Western Connecticut Central Labor Council and a member of the executive council of the Connecticut AFL-CIO in November 2011, when he was invited to a meeting at Smoke House Tobacco.
David Moffa, the president of Local 387 and a correction supervisor, asked Soucy to help a friend, Paul Rogers, and his partner, Waterbury police detective George Tirado, find a way to keep the legislature from imposing the state's cigarette tax on their roll-your-own cigarette business.
"Soucy initially entered into this criminal enterprise solely to assist his former supervisor, colleague and friend, David Moffa," Rasile wrote. Quoting a pre-sentencing report, Rasile added, "it was Mr. Soucy’s 'misguided loyalty' to Mr. Moffa that led to him getting involved in this matter."
Moffa was sentenced to 24 months in prison; Tirado got 26 months. Rogers is awaiting sentencing. Donovan was not charged, but his campaign manager, Josh Nassi, pleaded guilty to conspiracy and was sentenced to 28 months. His finance director, Robert Braddock Jr., was convicted at trial and sentenced to 38 months.
The FBI had a cooperator from the start. Patrick Castagna, who was involved with another roll-your-own shop, was at the first meeting, wearing a wire. Soucy was recorded saying he could set up a meeting with Donovan, but it would cost.
The group initially gave Donovan's congressional campaign $10,000, but the total reached $27,500. The money was paid in a series of $2,500 checks made out in the name of straw donors, hiding the link to smoke shops.
In one recording, Soucy told Castagna that was how to do business.
"This is called politics," Soucy said.
"I don’t know anything about this game," Castagna replied.
"This game runs on one thing -- dollars," Soucy said.
"What happens if it goes bad, Ray?" Castagna asked.
The answer to that question became clear to Soucy on April 25, 2012, when he met at the Omni Hotel in New Haven with an undercover agent he knew as John Kelly, posing as a money guy ready to make a major investment in roll-your-own shops.
As Kelly left, FBI agents confronted Soucy with evidence of the conspiracy and told him his only chance for leniency would be to help them gather evidence. Soucy made his first recorded call that night.
In court Monday, Soucy said he never asked for a lawyer that night or over the following weeks, when he wore a wire or a spy camera in meetings with Donovan's top campaign aides and, ultimately, in a meeting with Donovan on what was supposed to be a triumphant night -- the convention where Donovan was endorsed for the open 5th Congressional District seat.
"I was just trying to fix what I did wrong, and no lawyer coud assist me," Soucy told Arterton. "I'm not asking this court to excuse my conduct, but I'm aksing you sentence me as the man in front of you."
In a video recording Soucy made the night of the convention, Soucy thanked Donovan for killing the tobacco legislation and told him he was about to give Nassi another $10,000.
Donovan quickly backed away from Soucy, one of the factors that likely saved him from being charged. Another was that the tobacco bill died from inaction on the Senate calendar at the end of the regular annual session, never reaching the House, where Donovan controlled the agenda.
In a special session weeks later, the General Assembly passed a bill imposing fees and taxes on the roll-your-own business in a special session in 2012. Smoke House Tobacco is now out of business.
Soucy left court without comment, trailed by one TV news crew. Rasile said he and his client said what they wanted to say in court.