Donovan’s former campaign manager, smoke shop owners among 7 indicted by feds
The former manager of House Speaker Christopher G. Donovan’s congressional campaign was among seven people charged in a federal indictment unsealed Thursday in connection with the continuing investigation of Donovan’s campaign fundraising.
Joshua Nassi, the manager whom Donovan fired after the FBI investigation became public in May, was charged with federal crimes related to what federal authorities say was a conspiracy to hide the identity of donors who wanted Donovan to influence tobacco legislation.
Those also charged in the indictment include: a detective in the Waterbury Police Department with a financial interest in a smoke shop; two others connected to smoke shops; a Watertown businessman; and a former president of an AFSCME local that represented correction officers. Also named as conspirator was Robert Braddock Jr., the former Donovan fundraiser who was previously indicted.
The U.S. attorney’s office also announced that Ray Soucy, 60, a former correction officer and union official, pleaded guilty Wednesday to charges related to his helping arrange contributions to Donovan’s campaign. Soucy had been cooperating with investigators.
The indictment leaves Donovan’s status unchanged: Three weeks before the Democratic primary, he is neither accused of wrongdoing or of having knowledge of wrongdoing, nor has he been assured he is not a potential target of the investigation.
Donovan came to the Capitol late Thursday afternoon to briefly address the media and assert his innocence, then left without taking questions.
Without implicating him, the new indictment has details that edge Donovan closer to the effort by smoke shop owners to use donations to stop efforts to impose fees or taxes on their roll-your-own cigarette business.
It describes Soucy phoning Donovan on Nov. 2, 2011 — the start of the conspiracy — to talk about tobacco legislation, without describing Donovan as involved in a conspiracy to accept illegal donations that eventually totaled $27,500.
Soucy is quoted as telling Nassi on May 3, 2012, that he spoke to Donovan, who is identified in the indictment as “Public Official Number 1,” the previous night about the tobacco bill.Â “He’s working on it,” Soucy told Nassi.
“Hopefully, we can get this thing killed, and I can take care of [Public Offrcial Number 1] for another
ten grand and much more later on,” Soucy said.
Those named in the indictment:
- Braddock, 33, of Meriden, the former finance director for Donovan’s campaign;
- Nassi, 34, of Fairfield, who was a lawyer on Donovan’s state Capitol staff before running his congressional campaign;
- Benjamin Hogan, 33,Â of Southington, an employee of Smoke House Tobacco, a roll-your-own smoke shop with two locations in Waterbury;
- David Moffa, 52, ofÂ Middlebury, the former president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Local 387;
- Daniel Monteiro, 33, of Wolcott, the owner of a company in Waterbury;
- Paul Rogers, 39, of Watertown, a co-owner of Smoke House Tobacco;
- George Tirado, 35, of Waterbury, a co-owner of Smoke House Tobacco. He also is a police detective now on administrative leave from the Waterbury Police Department.
Monteiro, who was out of state Thursday, will be arraigned Friday. The other five pleaded not guilty in U.S. District Court in New Haven and were released on bond. Braddock previously pleaded not guilty.
The political question for the Donovan campaign: Will the new indictment significantly expand the public record about a conspiracy that has damaged Donovan without directly touching him?
It injects a massive dose of bad publicity into the campaign, but offers no sign if Donovan ultimately will be cleared or implicated, leaving him in a political gray area three weeks from the Aug. 14 three-way Democratic primary for the open 5th Congressional District seat.
In a very brief statement late Thursday at the Capitol, Donovan reasserted that while he expected “sooner or later” that there could be more arrests, he was unaware of any illegal activity in his campaign.Â His statement took one minute to deliver, then he immediately exited to a waiting car and was driven away.
“What I didn’t expect, what I’m practically speechless about … was that there are people who thought they could buy my vote,” Donovan said.Â “That’s everything that’s wrong about politics and everything I’ve spent my life fighting against.”
He cited hisÂ “earned reputation for honesty,” a career working for campaign finance reform and said, “My vote is not for sale.”
“I’ve already told you that I didn’t know some of the contributions that came to this campaign were illegal,” Donovan said, adding that an independent investigation commissioned by his campaign and conducted by former U.S. Attorney Stanley Twardy confirmed this earlier this month. “He found nothing to indicate that I had any involvement in the conduct alleged in today’s indictment.”
“I’ve always done what I’ve believed to be right for Connecticut families who need someone fighting for them,” Donovan closed, “and I look forward to continue that.”
And then he left without taking questions.
His Democratic and Republican opponent quickly pressed for advantage, and the National Republican Congressional Committee used a line Donovan can expect hear all fall if he wins the primary: He either tolerated corruption, or he was clueless about its close proximity.
The indictment describes Moffa, Rogers and an unidentified smoke shop owner meeting Nov. 2, 2011, at Smoke House Tobacco in Waterbury to talk about proposed legislation that could impose fees or taxes on the roll-your-own cigarette business.
Moffa told them that Soucy was a good friend of Donovan, who was referred to only as “Public Official Number 1.”
“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, Soucy arrived and called Donovan to set up a meeting with the smoke shop owners, the details of which were released in the previous indictment of Braddock.
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.
In May, after Soucy was cooperating with the FBI, he reminded Nassi in a recorded conversation that the tobacco interests already had given the camaign $20,000.
“Hopefully, we can get this thing killed, and I can take care of [Public Offrcial Number 1] for anotherÂ
ten grand and much more later on,” Soucy said.
At one point, Nassi hedged, saying he was unsure what he could promise.
“I’m, you know, doing everything I can,” Nassi said. “You gotta just monitor this shit all the time.”
Nassi did track the bill, according to email exchanges with an unidentified legislative staffer excerpted in the indictment.
When told on the afternoon of May 1 that it appeared the Senate was taking up the bill, his reply:Â “Omg. R U serious?”
He pressed for details with another email hours later: “Did they do cigs?”
The regular session ultimately ended without Senate action on the bill. It later passed in special session.
The documents are the third wave of disclosures about what federal authorities say was a conspiracy by former top campaign staffers of Donovan and owners of smoke shops interested in killing legislation.
Regarding the arrest of Tirado, the Waterbury detective, police ChiefÂ Michael Gugliotti said the department is conducting an internal affairs investigation. In an emailed press release, the chief said:
“Tirado had a financial interest into two roll your own cigarette businesses here in Waterbury. Tirado is a 14 year veteran of the Waterbury Police Department and he has never been the subject of any disciplinary action. Due to this ongoing federal investigation, Tirado has been on administrative leave since July 20th.”
While no evidence has emerged that shows Donovan had knowledge of the alleged conspiracy, his candidacy has been undeniably damaged by a scandal that forced the termination of his manager, chief fundraiser and a deputy fundraiser, who has not been charged.
Braddock, his chief fundraiser, was arrested in May on a criminal complaint that disclosed the existence of an FBI sting investigation that involved undercover agents who made illegal contributions.
Donovan effectively was without the ability to raise money for the month of June, but his significant support from organized labor and grass-roots groups has kept him competitive in the primary.
Donovan, a longtime lawmaker from Meriden, is competing with former state Rep. Elizabeth Esty of Cheshire and Dan Roberti of Kent for the nomination.
Thursday, after news of the additional indictments came out, state Sen. Andrew Roraback, who is vying for the Republican nomination for the 5th Congressional District, released a statement:
â€śTodayâ€™s news of a guilty plea having been entered by Ray Soucy for having devised a scheme to bribe a public official together with the reported arrests of Chris Donovanâ€™s alter-ego, Josh Nassi, and others connected to this scandal cannot help but raise additional questions about Mr. Donovanâ€™s knowledge or lack of knowledge as to the conduct around which this scandal has developed. Speaker Donovan owes it to all voters in the 5th District to answer fully any and all questions which relate to his role in the transgressions of his campaign.â€ť
Mark Greenberg, who is running against Roraback for the nomination, said, “It is clear that Donovan either knew or should have known that illegal activity was occurring in his campaign. Whether this is a gross violation of the public trust or gross mismanagement, the people of Connecticut deserve better from their elected officials and candidates.
“Today I renew my call for Chris Donovan to step down from the legislature and quit the 5th District race. He is not fit to represent Connecticut in the legislature or the Congress.”
Staff Writer Keith Phaneuf contributed to this story.
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