New Haven — A U.S. District Court jury Friday convicted former Gov. John G. Rowland on all counts arising from what the government described as 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 accepted the verdict stoically, standing at the defense table, half turning toward his family behind him. His wife, Patty, quietly wept, leaning on a bearded young man’s shoulder. Once Senior Judge Janet Bond Arterton dismissed the jury, Rowland turned and held one of his two daughters in a long embrace. Her muffled sobs were briefly the only sound in the hushed court.
Arterton, who has handed down stiff sentences in previous political corruption cases, scheduled sentencing for Dec. 12. As a two-time offender who previously served 10 months of a 12-month, one-day sentence, Rowland is all but assured of a return to prison. A highly unlikely penalty of maximum, consecutive sentences on each count would add up to 57 years.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Mattei told Arterton that the government was willing to delay sentencing until after the new year.
On the courthouse steps, Rowland’s lawyer, Reid H. Weingarten, promised an appeal.
Rowland briefly remained inside, accepting condolences from friends. One of his lawyers, William Drake, saw a reporter and said, “Not now.” Rowland made a call on his cell phone, then he looked to his wife, signaling it was time for their exit.
Trailed by his daughters and accompanied by his wife, Rowland exited without comment, eyes straight ahead as he marched past the courtroom where he was sentenced nearly a decade ago in the previous corruption case, passing through a near-empty foyer and out to face a waiting scrum of reporters and photographers.
The small entourage descended the stone steps facing the New Haven Green, walked to a waiting sedan and sped away.
“Clearly, this is a sad day,” said Michael J. Gustafson, chief of the criminal division of the U.S. attorney’s office. “I heard it suggested cynically, during the course of the trial, both in the courtroom and outside the courtroom, that this case was simply politics as usual. It was far from that.”
Gustafson, flanked by the two prosecutors who tried the case, Mattei and Liam Brennan, said the jury verdict sends a message to candidates and political operatives that transparency in campaigns remains an important and protected element of U.S. elections.
“It ought to be — no, it has to be — that voters know that what they see is what they get,” Gustafson said. “In this case, the defendant and others didn’t want that to happen.”
Weingarten said his opinion remains unchanged: Rowland did nothing to warrant a prosecution on seven felony counts, including two obstruction charges punishable by maximum sentences of 20 years each.
“Of course, we are extremely disappointed in the verdict. We always believed that the prosecutors have made a very large mountain out of a very small molehill, all triggered by an all-too-mundane political dustup,” Weingarten said.
Rowland, 57, was indicted in April. Jurors got the case Thursday after two weeks of testimony. They returned a verdict after less than seven hours of deliberation, including five Friday.
Rowland is a Republican whose 35-year political career derailed in 2004 when he resigned as governor in the face of an impeachment inquiry and a federal criminal investigation into bid-rigging.
The government claimed during the trial that Rowland, whose resignation and subsequent guilty plea to corruption charges left him too tainted to be openly hired by any campaign, pitched Mark Greenberg on hiring him in 2009 for his 2010 campaign and Lisa Foley-Wilson in 2011 for her 2012 campaign.
Greenberg rebuffed Rowland’s proposal to be hired to a personal services contract, but only after 10 months of continuing conversations with a man still seen as the possessor of valuable political guidance, 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 dangerous 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. He was paid $35,000.
The U.S. attorney’s office said 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 actual work for Apple.
The government’s evidence that the business contract was a means to pay for the campaign work included a damning chronology: The Apple contract was offered as soon as Wilson-Foley rejected Rowland as a campaign consultant, and Rowland’s intense, volunteer efforts for the campaign coincided with his striking a deal with Apple.
Six of the seven counts of the indictment related to Rowland’s alleged conspiracy with Foley and Wilson-Foley. One stemmed from his pitch to Greenberg, who is running again for Congress this year as the GOP nominee.
A summary of the indictment and the maximum penalty on each count:
• COUNT ONE: Falsification of records in a federal investigation, 20 years.
Rowland was accused of drafting and proposing a sham consulting contract in 2009 as part of a pitch to provide campaign advice to Greenberg. The contract never was signed. The falsification charge is considered an attempt to obstruct justice.
• COUNT TWO: Conspiracy, five years.
Rowland was accused of conspiring with Foley and Wilson-Foley, who have pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge, to conceal from the Federal Election Commission that Rowland was paid by Foley to work for the campaign. Elements of the conspiracy include allegations that they attempted to obstruct the investigation.
• COUNT THREE: Falsification of records in a federal investigation, 20 years.
Rowland is accused of signing a consulting contract with the counsel to Apple Rehab that was intended to hide payments for his campaign advice.
• COUNT FOUR and COUNT FIVE: Causing false statements, five years on each.
Rowland was accused of knowingly and willfully causing the submission of false campaign finance reports to the Federal Election Commission at the end of 2011 and first quarter of 2012. Each report is a separate count.
• COUNT SIX and COUNT SEVEN: Illegal campaign contributions, one year on each.
The government says payments Rowland accepted from Apple Rehab actually were illegal campaign contributions to the Wilson-Foley campaign from Brian Foley. One count is for the payments in 2011, the other for the payments in 2012.