A federal appeals court Friday upheld Gov. John G. Rowland’s conviction and 30-month prison sentence for his role in a scheme to solicit two congressional campaigns in 2010 and 2012 to secretly pay him as a political consultant in violation of U.S. campaign finance laws.
Rowland, 59, a former state legislator, congressman and governor, has been free on bond while the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit considered an appeal that claimed, among other things, that his consulting contract with the husband of congressional candidate Lisa-Wilson Foley was legitimate, not an effort to hide his political work.
In a decision by Judge Susan L. Carney, a three-judge panel unanimously rejected that claim and others, concluding that evidence at trial in New Haven showed Rowland twice pitched illegal consulting arrangements to Republican candidates in his old congressional district, unsuccessfully to Mark Greenberg in 2010 and then to Wilson-Foley in 2012.
“We conclude that Rowland was properly convicted under 18 U.S.C. § 1519 5 because he created or participated in the creation of documents that misrepresented—or ‘falsified’—his relationships with the Congressional candidates, Wilson‐Foley and Mark Greenberg, and he did so with the intent to impede a possible future federal investigation. We reject Rowland’s assertion that principles of contract law prevent us from concluding that documents styled as contracts are ‘falsified’ within the meaning of the statute,” she wrote.
The government said Rowland and Wilson-Foley were motivated to hide his role in the campaign because of the corruption scandal that toppled him from office in 2004. He also was employed at the time as the host of a popular afternoon talk show on WTIC-AM, a perch he used to promote Wilson-Foley and undermine her rivals for the GOP nomination, which was won in a primary by Andrew Roraback.
Greenberg rebuffed Rowland’s proposal to be hired to a personal services contract through a charitable foundation, but only after 10 months of continuing conversations with a man still seen as a valuable political guide, particularly in the 5th Congressional District that Rowland represented for three terms. Rowland went to Washington at age 27 as the youngest member of Congress.
Wilson-Foley also concluded in September 2011 that Rowland, whom she considered a friend, was too controversial to hire to run her campaign. Instead, her husband, Brian Foley, signed Rowland to a $5,000-a-month consulting contract with his nursing home company, Apple Rehab. Rowland was paid $35,000 before the arrangement became public.
Foley and his wife each pleaded guilty to misdemeanors. Foley was a key government witness at trial and escaped with a three-month sentence in a halfway house. Wilson-Foley was sentenced to five months in prison.
On appeal, Rowland claimed that the federal authorities had misinterpreted what it meant to falsify a contract and failed to disclose a statement Wilson-F0ley made to investigators that might have been helpful to his case. He also challenged evidentiary rulings, jury instructions and the application of sentencing guidelines by the trial judge, Janet Bond Arterton.
He lost on all those claims.
“We reject Rowland’s assertion that principles of contract law prevent us from concluding that documents styled as contracts are ‘falsified’ within the meaning of the statute,” Carney wrote in the court’s decision. “We also determine that the government adequately disclosed Wilson‐Foley’s statements to Rowland, and that even if it did not, he is not able to show that he was prejudiced by the deficiency. Finally, we reject his challenges to the District Court’s other rulings at trial and at sentencing.”
A spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office said Arterton likely would give Rowland a date to report to prison once she receives official notice from the appeals court. Rowland still can seek a rehearing by the full 2nd Circuit or appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
A jury convicted Rowland in September 2014 on a seven-count indictment that accused him of conspiring to conceal fees that were illegal campaign contributions from Foley to his wife. Six of the seven counts related to a conspiracy with Foley and Wilson-Foley. One stemmed from his pitch two years earlier to Greenberg, who was the Republican nominee in the 5th District in 2014.
Prosecutors contended at trial the consulting contract was a sham, a means to covertly pay Rowland to largely take control of Wilson-Foley’s campaign for the open congressional seat in 2012. Foley testified that he intended the contract as cover, but he conceded that Rowland did some actual work for Apple.
Rowland resigned as governor in July 2004 in the second year of his third term as governor, chased from office by an impeachment inquiry into allegations of bid-rigging and other corruption involving his acceptance of favors. He later pleaded guilty to federal corruption charges and served 10 months in prison.
He quickly rebounded, first landing an economic development job in Waterbury, the city he once represented in the General Assembly, then getting hired by WTIC-AM. He also gave inspirational speeches.
In a sentencing memo, prosecutors said Rowland was motivated to conspire with Wilson-Foley by a desire to once again be a political player, not a need for money. Without detailing the sources, they said Rowland was making $420,000 a year when he signed the consulting deal with Wilson-Foley’s husband.
His downfall had a theatrical note. One of the Republicans vying for the congressional nomination in 2012 was Mike Clark, a retired FBI agent who played a supervisory role in the investigation that led to Rowland’s guilty plea after his resignation. It was Clark’s suspicions in 2012 that led to the new case.
Rowland did not respond to a request for comment, nor did his appeals lawyer, Andrew L. Fish of Locke Lord in New York, who previously was a top appellate lawyer for the U.S. attorney’s office in the Southern District of New York.
The judges on the panel were: Carney, the former deputy general counsel of Yale University and an appointee of President Obama; Denny Chin, a former federal prosecutor in New York City, also appointed by Obama; and Ralph K. Winter, a former Yale professor named to the court in 1981 by President Reagan.