Rowland jurors won’t hear from ex-governor in his own defense

New Haven – The defense in the John G. Rowland trial rested Wednesday without calling the former politician and talk-radio host, whose resignation as governor and subsequent guilty plea to corruption charges a decade ago rendered him a risky witness in his own defense.

Rowland, 57, who arguably was one of the more persuasive politicians in recent Connecticut history as the winner of two races for the General Assembly, three for Congress and three for governor, made only one substantive statement in court, telling Senior Judge Janet Bond Arterton he would not exercise his right to testify.

Arterton excused the jury for the day at 10:11 a.m., telling them to return Thursday at 9:30 a.m. for closing arguments by Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Mattei and Reid H. Weingarten, the nationally prominent lawyer who led Rowland’s defense.

The only witness called by the defense was Brian Bedard, the top Apple Rehab executive summoned to counter the government’s claim that Rowland’s consulting with Apple was a sham to hide his work for the 2012 congressional campaign of Lisa Wilson-Foley, the wife of Apple’s owner, Brian Foley.

Bedard, the chief operating officer of Apple Rehab, testified that Rowland did some substantive work for the major nursing home chain, which operates 24 facilities in Connecticut and two in Rhode Island. He said he never suspected that Foley had a political motive for the hiring until after Foley pleaded guilty March 31, 2014.

“He lied to me,” Bedard said of Foley, his long-time employer. “And I’m not good with that. I’m not good with that at all. I trusted him, and I was lied to.”

Foley says he and Rowland had an unspoken agreement: Foley would pay Rowland a $5,000 monthly fee through Apple to effectively run Wilson-Foley’s campaign, a ruse necessitated by the political risk of the campaign’s openly hiring a controversial politician who had served 10 months in prison.

Conspiracies require no express agreement.

Rowland’s guilt or innocence rests on whether the jury believes the government’s claim that his Apple consulting was an obvious pretext, which Foley testified was his intent and understanding of the arrangement, or the defense’s arguments that Foley may have thought the arrangement corrupt, but Rowland did not.

Foley testfied he directed Apple Rehab to hire Rowland as a cover, a means to secretly buy Rowland’s political expertise, but Bedard testified over three days that Rowland offered useful advice on how to react to the changing regulatory and funding environment around Apple’s nursing home business.

An element of Bedard’s testimony was the subject of heated arguments Tuesday and Wednesday outside the presence of the jury: Should he be allowed to describe conversations in which he says Foley repeatedly told him that he had no explicit deal with Rowland?

The issue was whether Bedard’s account of those conversations was inconsistent with Foley’s testimony and could therefore be used to impeach the government’s key witness. Arterton initially refused the line of inquiry, but she agreed Wednesday to question him outside the presence of the jury.

Bedard told the judge that Foley told him he had no deal, no quid pro quo with Rowland.

“Of course, he knew when he hired Mr. Rowland it was pretext. The whole thing was a sham. But my understanding was he never had a direct conversation with Mr. Rowland saying that Mr. Rowland understood specifically that Brian Foley was hiring him with the intent of having him work on Lisa Wilson-Foley’s campaign,” Bedard said. “He never had the direct conversation. Maybe it was implied, maybe it should have been known, all of those things.”

Mattei said Bedard’s account did not impeach Foley and shouldn’t be allowed.

“The words are not inconsistent. We’re not playing games here. Mr. Bedard couldn’t have been more clear,” Mattei said.

“Mr. Foley may have had in his own mind a corrupt understanding, but it was never communicated to Mr. Rowland,” Weingarten said.

“A criminal conspiracy does not require a direct communication or understanding,” Arterton said.

But she allowed the testimony.

“Mr. Foley has told me that he never made a specific deal with Mr. Rowland,” Bedard told the jurors. “There was no quid pro quo. He never said to Mr. Rowland, ‘You need to do this for that.’ ”

Bedard said he recalled Foley’s telling him that immediately after Foley pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of conspiring with Rowland. Foley likened a misdemeanor to a speeding ticket, he said.

But he also said that Foley let him know that the deal with Apple was “a sham.”

On cross examination, Assistant U.S. Attorney Liam Brennan pressed Bedard on what was clear about the consulting deal with Rowland — that it was a sham, even if never directly expressed.

“You understood it was implied, right?”

“Yes.”

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