By PAT EATON-ROBB
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Former Gov. John G. Rowland, who resigned from office a decade ago in a corruption scandal, was convicted Friday of federal charges that he conspired to hide payment for work on two congressional campaigns.
Rowland, once a rising star for the Republican Party, served 10 months in prison for taking illegal gifts while in office and now as a repeat offender faces the possibility of a much stiffer sentence.
He was convicted in New Haven federal court of all seven counts, including conspiracy, falsifying records in a federal investigation, causing false statements to be made to the Federal Election Commission and causing illegal campaign contributions.
“Americans will not tolerate corrupt conduct in the electoral process,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael J. Gustafson said. “Lies and deception can never be accepted as politics as usual in Connecticut. All voters have a right to know the truth when they cast their ballots.”
Rowland’s lawyer, Reid Weingarten, said he would appeal. The former governor was stoic as he left the courthouse hand-in-hand with his wife and did not speak to reporters.
The government’s case centered around a contract between Rowland and a nursing home chain owned by the husband of 2012 congressional candidate Lisa Wilson-Foley. Rowland’s attorneys argued he volunteered for the campaign while receiving $35,000 to consult for her husband’s company, but prosecutors said the money was an illegal payment for campaign services.
“Hopefully this really is the final installment in a very sad chapter in Connecticut’s history,” Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said Friday.
Rowland, 57, was elected to the U.S. House three times, governor three times and served as chairman of the Republican Governors Association. He had been mentioned as a possible vice presidential candidate or cabinet member before he was impeached and resigned.
He was released from prison in 2006 and began rebuilding his life, landing a job as in economic development before becoming a radio show host. In his first interview after leaving prison, the man known for his charm and quick wit said he had faith God would steer him down a different path.
“When you lose your freedom, it’s a very humbling experience,” he said.
But he found himself in the crosshairs of federal investigators once again as he pursued a return to politics.
Much of the evidence against Rowland came from email correspondence, including one in which he wrote to Wilson-Foley’s husband, Brian Foley, shortly after proposing he become a paid political consultant for his wife. Foley testified during the trial that Wilson-Foley wanted Rowland’s help but believed his involvement, if made public, would attract negative publicity.
“Had a brief chat with Lisa. I get it. Let’s you and I meet,” Rowland wrote to Foley.
In March, the Foleys each pleaded guilty to conspiring to make illegal campaign contributions, a misdemeanor. Both face up to a year in prison at sentencing. Brian Foley became the government’s star witness, testifying that he paid Rowland for campaign work and that the work Rowland did for Foley’s company, Apple Health Care Inc., was only cursory.
Weingarten attacked Foley’s credibility, showing he illegally funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars to his wife’s campaign and could have faced significant prison time if he had not cut a deal.
Rowland didn’t testify in his own defense. His lawyers presented one witness, Apple executive Brian Bedard, who testified that Rowland did real work for him and he did not believe the contract was a sham.
“We always believed prosecutors had made a very large mountain out of a very small molehill,” Weingarten said after the verdict Friday.
Rowland also was convicted of trying to cut a similar business deal with another politician.
Mark Greenberg, a Republican who is again running for Congress this year, testified that Rowland proposed becoming a consultant to his 2010 campaign while being paid as though he was working for the candidate’s animal rescue organization. Greenberg said he turned down the proposal.
Rowland’s lawyers argued that he never ended up working for Greenberg and the proposed contract only would have violated the law had it been in force and had Greenberg failed to properly report the payments.
The convictions came on the first full day of jury deliberations. The maximum possible prison sentence is more than 50 years, but Rowland likely will receive much less time under federal sentencing guidelines. Sentencing is scheduled for Dec. 12.