A federal grand jury Thursday indicted John G. Rowland on seven counts, accusing the former Republican governor, congressman and conservative radio host of soliciting two congressional campaigns in 2010 and 2012 to secretly pay him as a political consultant.
The indictment describes Rowland trying to aggressively pitch sham consulting deals with two Republican congressional candidates seeking his old 5th District seat. Mark Greenberg rebuffed him in 2010, but Lisa Wilson-Foley agreed to secretly pay for his help in 2012.
Rowland is expected to be arraigned Friday at 2:30 p.m. in U.S. District Court in New Haven. It is the same courthouse where he pleaded guilty to a corruption charge in 2004 and was sentenced in 2005 after scandal forced his resignation as governor.
Wilson-Foley and her husband, Brian Foley, pleaded guilty March 31 to conspiracy and identified Rowland as their co-conspirator. By week’s end, Rowland had signed off as radio host to await an indictment whose only surprise Thursday was its scope.
The main source of his new legal difficulty: $35,000 for political consulting that the grand jury says was illegally hidden as a business expense for Foley’s health care company, rather than a political expenditure publicly reported by Wilson-Foley’s 2012 campaign.
The indictment also charges Rowland in connection with a similar proposal he made to Greenberg in 2010: Pay him secretly through a non-profit animal shelter Greenberg operates in Bloomfield. The indictment did not identify Greenberg, but two years ago the candidate publicly disclosed Rowland's offer.
Greenberg is running again this year and is the front-runner for the GOP nomination. Greenberg declined to talk to reporters who approached him Thursday evening at the GOP's annual fundraiser, the Prescott Bush Dinner in Stamford. It was the same dinner in 2010 where Rowland was warmly applauded after attending for the first time since his resignation.
"We are sensitive to the fact that this is part of an ongoing criminal investigation," said Bill Evans, Greenberg's campaign manager, in an email later that evening. "At this point Mark has offered all the information he knows as it relates to former governor John Rowland. He is confident in the US Attorneys office to handle this matter appropriately."
In May 2010, according to the indictment, Rowland stepped up pressure on Greenberg to hire him, sending an email: "I'm not as unpopular as your campaign manager would lead you to believe !! especiaily , [sic] in the 5tr district. I can get you elected .... Ifyou are interested[.]"
The former governor began pitching Greenberg the previous fall.
“This is another sad chapter in a story that Connecticut knows all too well," said Andrew Doba, a spokesman for Gov. Dannel P. Malloy. "Law enforcement should be commended for their diligence on this matter. Governor Malloy hopes for a quick resolution.”
Word of the indictment spread slowly at the sold-out Bush dinner, where the state chairman, Jerry Labriola, looked out on the crowded ballroom at the Stamford Hilton and proclaimed, "What a great night for the Republican Party!"
"I'm really sad," said Chris DePino, a former state chairman, when told of the news. "It is in itself a tragedy."
House Minority Leader Lawrence F. Cafero Jr., R-Norwalk, had a two word reaction: "Disgust. Disappointment."
In a prepared statement, Labriola later distanced the GOP from its former standard bearer: "While there may be great fascination in this story, the fact is John Rowland has no connection to the Connecticut Republican Party nor has he for over 10 years."
Rowland, who found a measure of public redemption and financial success after a corruption scandal chased him from the State Capitol in Hartford to a federal prison in Loretto, Pa., a decade ago, now faces the prospect of a trial and, if convicted, a prison sentence far longer the 10 months he served in 2005 and 2006..
The new charges include two counts of falsifying records to thwart a federal investigation, each punishable by a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. He also is charged with conspiracy, two counts of causing false statements to be made to the Federal Election Commission and two counts of causing illegal campaign contributions.
Rowland, 56, once the nation’s youngest congressman and still the only Connecticut governor elected to three four-year terms, has been a major political story over the past 30 years. He was a congressman at 27, governor at 37, and a felon at 47. Now, a month shy of his 57th birthday, he is under indictment.
Facing impeachment and a federal bid-rigging investigation into gifts and favors from state contractors, Rowland resigned as governor July 1, 2004, and pleaded guilty to a corruption charge Dec. 23, 2004. Three months later, he was sentenced to a year and a day in prison, ultimately serving 10 months.
In speeches he gave after his release, Rowland blamed his fall on a "sense of entitlement" and an "arrogance of power." In December 2006, he expressed faith in God and disdain of the media in a talk to students at The Master's School, a Christian academy in Simsbury.
"As you can see, there is a little bit of press here,'' Rowland said. "I describe that as morbid curiosity. They're just curious that I'm still breathing after the roller-coaster life that I've had.''
Rowland called his fall surreal, saying it seemed he was visiting George W. Bush in the White House one day, then standing in line for toilet paper in prison the next. He described finding a religious faith in prison. He urged the students to be evangelists.
"Reach out to other non-believers, your brothers, your sisters. And just show them by your actions. You can't talk anybody into it. Show them by your actions, and then let the Holy Spirit do the rest of the work,'' he said. "And it will all work out.''
And it did for Rowland, at least for a time.
His hometown of Waterbury hired him in January 2008 for a $95,000-a-year position to promote economic development, a post he held until 2012. In the fall of 2010, WTIC-AM hired him as host of the afternoon drive-time show, and strong ratings followed.
But a plea document released March 31 says that Rowland initiated the conspiracy that led to Thursday's indictment with an email to Foley and Wilson-Foley on Sept. 5, 2011: “I have an idea to run by you, what days are good?”
When they met a week later, Rowland pitched himself as an adviser to the Wilson-Foley campaign. In a second meeting, Rowland tried to cement the deal with a lie: He made up a competing offer from another candidate, but insisted he preferred working with them.
He signed a contract Oct. 1, 2011, to be paid $5,000 a month. To avoid detection, the contract was with a lawyer for Foley's business, Apple Rehab.
In a later email, Rowland acknowledged the importance of avoiding press attention, especially while one of Wilson-Foley's rivals for the GOP nomination was Mike Clark, the retired FBI agent who had helped pursue Rowland eight years earlier.