New Haven — For most, their day began early and rudely with a long-awaited knock at the door by FBI agents. They were allowed to dress, then they were handcuffed and delivered to a federal courthouse to make their entrance as defendants in Connecticut’s unfolding political corruption case.
Five of the six new defendants charged Thursday as conspirators in a plan to direct illegal contributions to the congressional campaign of House Speaker Christopher G. Donovan entered perfunctory not-guilty pleas and were released to dodge the waiting scrum of television and still photographers.
None had anything to say. It didn’t keep photographers already drenched in sweat from the summer afternoon heat from giving brief chase to one of them, David Moffa, 52, of Middlebury, a burly former correction officer and union president with the convincing nickname of “Buffalo.”
Wearing cargo shorts and sandals, Buffalo scampered away into the lobby of an adjacent high-rise office tower. One of the other defendants, Joshua Nassi, 34, of Fairfield, who had been Donovan’s campaign manager, slipped relatively unnoticed from the courthouse. The other three passed by the cameras.
The indictment unsealed Thursday filled in some details of a conspiracy first publicly alleged in late May in an affidavit supporting the arrest of Donovan’s chief fundraiser, Robert Braddock Jr. It attached names to alleged conspirators who had been described in Braddock’s arrest affidavit and subsequent indictment only by their roles.
There were the roll-your-own smoke shop owners, known as RYO-1, RYO-2 and RYO-3.
Two now have names: Paul Rogers, 39, of Watertown, and George Tirado, 35, of Waterbury, co-owners of Smoke House Tobacco, where authorities say a conspiracy was born to thwart the imposition of new fees or taxes on what briefly was a lucrative tax-free business.
Moffa, according to the indictment, told them at the first meeting he had a friend, another former correction officer and union activist, Ray Soucy, who could put them in touch with Donovan. The owners, later joined by FBI agents posing as businessmen, donated $27,500 to the campaign.
Tirado also is a Waterbury police detective with what the department says is a 14-year unblemished record. As a result of the federal investigation, Tirado was placed on administrative leave July 20, a hint his arrest was coming.
Tirado was arraigned with Rogers and one of their employees, Benjamin Hogan, 33, of Southington, who is known as “Bennie.” Rogers wore a suit, but his marshals would not let his lawyer, Benjamin Gettinger, give him a belt or tie to wear. He was red-eyed, visibly fatigued.
Tirado was clean-shaven, his close-cropped dark hair neatly trimmed. He wore a dark T-shirt and white slacks. Hogan had a thin beard, shoulder-length hair and wore a bright green Celtics T-shirt that urged, “Beat the Heat.”
U.S. Magistrate Judge Joan G. Margolis advised them of their right to remain silent and asked the question put to every defendant at arraignment: Do they have a lawyer? Can they understand English? Have they been treated for significant medical conditions, including addiction?
All answered yes to the first two, no to the last.
They were released on instructions to stay in Connecticut, unless granted permission to do otherwise. Margolis gave them permission to keep some previous travel plans: Tirado to Rhode Island on a family vacation; Rogers to the Bronx this weekend to see the Yankees play the Red Sox.
Nassi and Moffa were next.
The drama of the early-morning knock at the door was unnecessary. Most, if not all, knew the day was coming, and their lawyers would have been happy to arrange their self-surrender, a courtesy once routine. That is not the present policy of the U.S. attorney’s office.
Nassi canceled overseas travel, knowing he was under investigation.
Nassi, who was Donovan’s campaign manager until late May and the only one of the new defendants with an official role in the campaign, can credit his dog with saving him from the indignity of being led away in handcuffs without a shower, shave or decent clothes for his arraignment.
He was walking the dog when the FBI came calling.
Not finding him at home, they left empty-handed. Authorities instead informed his lawyer, William Bloss, that Nassi had an urgent date to keep with a federal magistrate judge. Nassi was arrested and handcuffed as he entered the courthouse and was passed through the metal detectors.
Soucy, who is cooperating with authorities, pleaded guilty and appeared in court Wednesday. Donovan has not been accused of any involvement in the effort to trade campaign cash — with the identities of the donors hidden — in return for killing the tobacco legislation, which eventually passed in special session.
Margolis repeated her questions to Nassi and Moffa, who said yes twice and no once.
Moffa was granted permission to keep plans for a golf outing in Vermont, a trip to Boston to drop off a son in college and a family wedding in Philadelphia. Nassi was told he can travel to New York to work for his father.
Moffa’s lawyer informed the court that Moffa, now barred from possessing firearms as a condition of release, had turned over his five firearms to a cousin. A probation official asked they be given to the Middlebury police.
Nassi’s lawyer and Moffa’s wife each stepped forward to surrender the two defendants’ passports.
A court official wearing latex gloves swabbed the inside of each defendant’s cheek to obtain a DNA sample, now a standard part of every federal arrest.
The sixth defendant charged in the new indictment, Daniel Monteiro of Wolcott, a businessman, had the good fortune to be out of state when the FBI tried to arrest him. His lawyer promised he will surrender for arraignment Friday.
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