A federal indictment returned Wednesday against House Speaker Christopher G. Donovan’s former congressional campaign fundraiser describes a conspiracy to kill roll-your-own tobacco legislation that began last fall in a Waterbury smoke shop.
The three-count indictment charges Robert Braddock Jr., who was Donovan’s congressional campaign finance director until his arrest by the FBI, with conspiring to accept $27,500 in illegal campaign contributions. Donovan is described as meeting smoke shop owners, without being told of their interest in the legislation.
“This indictment details an extensive conspiracy to corrupt the electoral process,” said U.S. Attorney David B. Fein. “The U.S. Attorney’s Office and the FBI continue to investigate not only this matter, but all illegal behavior that corrupts our system of government.”
The indictment leaves Donovan in political limbo less than six weeks before the Aug. 14 Democratic primary, neither accusing him of wrongdoing, nor offering assurances he will not yet be implicated. At a minimum, the indictment describes Braddock as willing to suggest to donors that Donovan could be bought.
Owners of roll-your-tobacco businesses are described as meeting Nov. 2, 2011, in a smoke shop to discuss potential legislation that would either tax or charge fees on their businesses. A call was made to Donovan, described in the indictment as “Public Official Number 1,” to arrange a meeting with him for Nov. 16, 2011, at a restaurant in his hometown of Meriden.
“Public Official Number 1” is described in the indictment as a member of the General Assembly who is running for Congress. His campaign’s internal investigation previously has acknowledged that Donovan met with the smoke shop owners.
According to the indictment, Braddock told a smoke shop owner at a campaign fundraiser on Nov. 15, the night before the meeting with Donovan, it would be dangerous to mention a bill with Donovan, because others might be listening.
“There is always people following this guy around, watching what he’s doing,” Braddock said.
Braddock was given a $2,500 donation by the smoke shop owner, but the indictment says the source of the money was concealed by funneling it through someone else’s checking account, which made the donation an “illegal conduit contribution.”
According to the indictment, the check was the first of 11 $2,500 conduit donations made to Donovan’s campaign by smoke shop owners or, beginning in the spring as the legislature was considering tobacco legislation, by FBI undercover agents posing as smoke-shop investors.
The first four checks were delivered Nov. 15 and 16 and Dec. 8, prior to the start of the 2012 session of the General Assembly.
The other seven were donated in April and May, with four being delivered after the legislature’s Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee approved the tobacco legislation, which was a Senate bill. The remaining three came after the session ended with no action on the bill.
The Senate never voted on the measure, so Donovan never was in a position to decide if the bill would be debated in the House.
The indictment refers to three unnamed owners of roll-your-own smoke shops, identified as RYO Owner 1, RYO Owner 2 and RYO Owner 3. There also is a reference to a co-conspirator, CC-1, who has previously been identified as Ray Soucy, a correction officer and union official who knew the smoke shop owners.
The internal investigation conducted by former U.S. Attorney Stanley Twardy for the campaign disclosed last week that Soucy had arranged Donovan’s breakfast meeting last fall with smoke shop owners.
The indictment says CC-1 met with RYO Owner 1 and 3 in the restaurant parking lot before they met with Donovan Nov. 16. He told them to plan on giving the campaign $10,000, followed by additional payments of up to $30,000 if they were “happy.”
On Nov. 16, CC-1 and the smoke shop owners agreed to complete the initial $10,000 payment by delivering two $2,500 conduit contributions at a fundraiser in Waterbury on Dec. 8. Before the fundraiser, RYO Owner 2 told the others they needed to hide their identities so no one would connect them to killing the tobacco legislation.
“Something happens, they say why the f ck did these guys donate ten thousand to this campaign,” he said.
Later that night, shortly after accepting the checks at the Waterbury fundraiser, Braddock is quoted as reassuring the owners, “You’re gonna be fine. I wouldn’t go repeating what I just said, but I think you’re gonna be fine.”
At the invitation of the Donovan campaign, Soucy attended the Democratic convention that endorsed Donovan on May 14, where he met with Donovan. He also delivered another $10,000 to the campaign in conduit checks, though apparently not in Donovan’s presence.
Soucy later told Braddock he had just “thanked the man” and that the $20,000 “was well worth it.”
Braddock replied, “You’re the man.”
The next day, Soucy called to tell Braddock to hold one check, which had inadvertently been written in the name of a smoke shop owner. Braddock was able to retrieve the check before it was deposited.
“Alright, so I’ll get that one from you and do a switch,” Soucy told him later.
“Yeah, sounds good,” Soucy said.
By this point, according to criminal complaint filed in May, Soucy was cooperating with FBI agents and recording conversations at their direction.
The indictment makes no claim that Donovan was aware of Braddock’s conversations with the smoke shop owners, and Donovan’s campaign spokesman, Gabe Rosenberg, said Wednesday night, “Nothing in this indictment is inconsistent with the findings of the independent Twardy report.”
As was detailed in the original criminal complaint that became public May 31, the indictment describes FBI undercover agents entering the picture this spring, posing as investors in a roll-your-own business. They provided another $10,000 in illegal contributions made through conduits or straw donors.
Braddock had waived his right to a probable cause hearing or a speedy indictment, an indication that plea negotiations were under way. But his lawyer, Frank Riccio II, said the talks never came close to a deal.
“We were never really there,” Riccio said.
Braddock will plead not guilty Thursday in U.S. District Court in New Haven, Riccio said.
The day Braddock’s arrest became public, Donovan fired Braddock; his campaign manager, Joshua Nassi; and a deputy campaign finance director. Swan, the executive director of the Connecticut Citizen Action Group and a longtime friend and political ally, came on board the next day as his new campaign manager.
Key unions have reaffirmed their support of Donovan, as has MoveOn.org, but the first indication of Donovan’s ability to compete financially will come no later than Sunday, when his campaign must disclose its finance report for the three-month period ending June 30.
He faces former state Rep. Elizabeth Esty of Cheshire, who recently went on television with her first television commercial, and Dan Roberti in the primary. Rosenberg said the campaign continues.
“As Chris said last week, we are ready to start talking about the issues that matter to the families of the district,” Rosenberg said. “He has always fought to reduce the influence of special interest and lobbyist money in politics, and he always will. Chris is the only candidate in the race that has a record of fighting for working families, and the only candidate that those families can trust to never sell them out.”