Feds: Former House Speaker Donovan will not be charged

Christopher G. Donovan asserting his innocence outside U.S. District Court in New Haven in May 2013.

CT Mirror

Christopher G. Donovan asserting his innocence outside U.S. District Court in New Haven in May 2013.

The U.S. attorney’s office confirmed Monday that former House Speaker Christopher G. Donovan will not be prosecuted in connection with the fundraising scandal that derailed his congressional campaign in 2012.

“The investigation is over. I look forward to continuing my efforts to advocate for a fair and just society,” Donovan said in a statement emailed to reporters.

Donovan, who bemoaned an inability to talk about the scandal while the investigation was pending, would have no further comment, according to a spokeswoman. Donovan distributed a copy of a letter from U.S. Attorney Deirdre M. Daly sent Friday to his lawyer, Shelley R. Sadin, confirming that the investigation was over.

“Please be advised that the investigation is now closed and, based on information and evidence currently available to the Government, this Office will not seek to charge your client with violations of federal criminal law in connection with that investigation,” Daly wrote.

Tom Carson, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney, confirmed Monday the issuance of a letter formally closing the investigation into the financing of Donovan’s congressional campaign but declined further comment.

Long expected, the letter provides an ending to a dark chapter in Connecticut political history, one that involved the FBI seizing legislative records, interviewing more than a dozen lawmakers and lobbyists, and secretly making video recordings of conversations with a handful of legislators at the State Capitol complex and at a Democratic nominating convention.

With the playing of audio and video recordings in court during the trial of Donovan’s chief fundraiser, Rob Braddock Jr.,  the investigation tarnished Donovan and all-but-destroyed his congressional campaign, yet fell short of proving that Donovan was a party to a scheme to trade influence for campaign contributions.

Donovan, a Democrat from Meriden, was widely seen as the front-runner for the Democratic nomination for the open seat in the 5th Congressional District in late May 2012 when the FBI arrested Braddock.

A federal indictment soon accused Braddock and Donovan’s campaign manager, Josh Nassi, of conspiracy to accept $27,500 in illegal campaign contributions from smoke-shop owners in return for a promise to keep their roll-your-own cigarette businesses exempt from tobacco taxes.

Ray Soucy, a union official and self-described political fixer, devised a plan to use the contributions, whose source was hidden by making the donations through straw donors, to influence Donovan. A month before the first arrest, Soucy became a secret FBI cooperator.

Donovan likely was spared prosecution for two reasons: He apparently did nothing to kill the legislation, which eventually became law in a special session; and he recoiled when Soucy linked the contributions to the legislation in a recorded conversation, though he raised no alarm about the encounter.

During the regular 2012 session, the tobacco legislation died on the Senate calendar without ever reaching the House, where Donovan controlled the agenda.

Donovan has adamantly denied knowledge of the scheme, but he never has answered detailed questions about the scandal, citing the continuing investigation. Last May, he appeared outside the federal courthouse where a jury was about to begin deliberations that would end with Braddock’s conviction.

“Whatever the jury decides in this case against Rob Braddock, I stand here to confirm what I told you a year ago: My vote was never for sale and I was not involved in Ray Soucy’s conduit contribution scheme,” Donovan said.

Donovan acknowledged that a video played in court of a conversation he had backstage with Soucy at his May 14, 2012, nominating convention made it appear that he was, at least, aware of an illicit effort to kill the tobacco bill.

Donovan said Soucy, who acted as a conduit between the smoke shop owners and his campaign, surprised him backstage, literally stepping from behind a curtain.

“I took care of ya, didn’t I?” a smiling Donovan says in the recording. But he walks away when Soucy mentions the $20,000 he previously raised for Donovan and adds, “I’ve got another ten grand to give Josh tonight for killing the bill.”

Josh was a reference to Donovan’s campaign manager.

“I didn’t kill the bill. I worked on the legislative side,” Donovan tells Soucy in the recording. “I did what’s right.”

Outside the courthouse last year,  Donovan tried to explain the exchange as legislative-speak.

“I said, ‘I took care of you.’ Now, let me explain that,” Donovan said. “I basically said, ‘Congratulations.’ If I said, ‘I took care of you,’ that’s all it meant.”

On the video, which was played during the Braddock trial, Donovan literally flees as Soucy explicitly ties $20,000 in past contributions and $10,000 in new contributions to the demise of the tobacco bill.

“You heard me forcefully correct him and say, ‘No, you were wrong, I did the right thing. I didn’t kill the bill,’ ” Donovan said Tuesday. “Now, Ray Soucy had a script. I didn’t have a script. I told the truth.”

But Donovan declined to say why he did nothing to reject the $10,000 that Soucy was about to hand his campaign manager, Nassi, who pleaded guilty in the case and was sentenced to 28 months in prison.

 

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