It was April 30, 2012, just seconds before a Republican congressional debate. Away from the other three candidates, Lisa Wilson-Foley confronted Mike Clark, also a candidate, about his recent letter to the Federal Election Commission questioning the propriety of her campaign’s relationship with John G. Rowland.
“She was angry and said, ‘You can’t honestly believe what you wrote in the letter to the FEC about Brian and I.’ Then the debate started and we never got to complete the conversation,” Clark said Tuesday in an interview. “I guess the conversation was completed yesterday in court.”
Late Monday afternoon, Wilson-Foley and her husband, Brian Foley, took turns standing before a federal magistrate, pleading guilty to conspiracy. In effect, each admitted that Clark, a retired FBI agent, was right when he told the FEC that Rowland’s involvement with Wilson-Foley’s campaign was suspicious.
Foley admitted Monday to paying $35,000 to Rowland through Foley’s health care company and its attorney to conceal that the former governor actually was a paid adviser to his wife’s unsuccessful campaign for the Republican nomination in the 5th Congressional District.
According to the documents, Rowland was secretly on her campaign payroll, despite hosting an afternoon talk show on WTIC AM in which politics and campaigns were standard fare, including the fight for the open congressional seat sought by Wilson-Foley and Clark.
Emails quoted in the plea documents confirm what Clark, who had successfully pursued the corruption case that forced Rowland’s resignation and guilty plea in 2004, suspected after hearing that Rowland was calling potential convention delegates, urging support of Wilson-Foley.
“From December through March and early April, you’re talking to people all the time. They’re telling us Rowland is very active on her behalf. Rowland is going to parties, Rowland is making phone calls, really leveraging on her behalf,” Clark said.
Mark Greenberg, one of the five candidates in the GOP race, eventually told Clark that Rowland had approached him during a previous campaign in 2010, offering to advise him — but only if Greenberg would agree to pay Rowland through Greenberg’s nonprofit animal-protection organization. Greenberg said he had refused.
Clark said he immediately suspected that whatever Rowland was doing for the Wilson-Foley campaign, it was not as a volunteer.
On April 30, 2012, the atmosphere before the debate at Torrington City Hall was tense. Clark’s letter to the FEC – he later would file a formal complaint — had become public. He was wondering how the topic would come up during the debate, when Wilson-Foley approached him by the lectern and accused him of playing dirty.
“She accused me of playing politics, that I can’t really believe this was true,” Clark said. “I told her, ‘Yeah, I do.’”
Then the candidates were called to their seats, cutting short the conversation. Clark was seething at Wilson-Foley’s accusation. By luck of the draw, he was seated between Wilson-Foley and Greenberg. The other candidates, Justin Bernier and Andrew Roraback, sat to her left.
In photos taken shortly after the candidates sat, Wilson-Foley is smiling. Clark is glowering, hands clasped in front of him, seemingly lost in thought. Clark said he thought about how he would deal with the question of his letter to the FEC when it came up.
“Everyone kept waiting for the moderator to ask a question about it. I was waiting and waiting and waiting for that question to come up,” Clark said. “Then the debate is ending, and it never is asked.”
Clark emphasized his half-dozen years on the town council in Farmington, ignoring the most intriguing aspect of his resume: his 22 years as an FBI agent, topped by the successful prosecution of Rowland. Other than a reference to the oath of integrity he took as an FBI agent — “There is no expiration date on that oath” — Clark said nothing during the debate about his career, Rowland or Rowland’s role in the Wilson-Foley campaign.
Clark said Tuesday he never to spoke to Wilson-Foley again. And he only had one encounter with Rowland during the campaign. It was months before the debate at a fundraising gala for St. Mary’s Hospital in Waterbury.
He saw Wilson-Foley and her husband sharing a table with Rowland and his wife and former state Sen. Lou DeLuca and his wife. Knowing the answer, he asked Rowland whether he would be invited on WTIC.
“I told him it would be great for ratings,” Clark said.
Without disclosing his relationship to the Wilson-Foley campaign, Rowland used his show to attack Roraback, the state senator who was the eventual winner of the GOP primary. But Clark was persona non grata.
Rowland’s radio show seldom, if ever, acknowledges his resignation, guilty plea and time in prison — topics not easily avoided if Clark was the guest. Clark, whose underfunded campaign always made him a long shot, said he was ignored by Rowland during the campaign.
“I don’t think he ever said my name on the air.”