A federal grand jury has charged seven people, and an eighth person has pleaded guilty, in an alleged scheme to funnel tens of thousands of dollars to the congressional campaign of Connecticut House Speaker Chris Donovan (D). Among those charged are Robert Braddock Jr., Donovan’s former finance director, and Joshua Nassi, Donovan’s former campaign manager.
A superseding indictment in the case was unsealed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Connecticut.
According to the Connecticut U.S. Attorney’s Office, the defendants were part of a conspiracy to direct $27,500 in so-called conduit campaign contributions to “the campaign of a candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives.” Donovan is not named in the indictment and he has denied any knowledge of the alleged wrongdoing. Conduit contributions are those made by one person in the name of another person. In this case, authorities say, the conduit contributions were made to conceal the fact that the money was coming from people connected to roll-your-own (RYO) smoke shops in the state, who had an interest in a bill that came before the Connecticut General Assembly this year. RYO shops let customers pay a fee to use a machine to assemble cigarettes, which are then not taxed the way packaged cigarettes are. Senate Bill 357 would have made RYO shop owners pay a licensing fee, along with higher taxes. In early April, the General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Finance, Revenue and Bonding voted in favor of Senate Bill 357. But the legislative session ended in May without the bill getting a vote in either chamber.
Also charged in the indictment are: Benjamin Hogan, an employee of Smoke House Tobacco in Waterbury, Conn.; David Moffa the former president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), Local 387, representing employees of the Connecticut Department of Correction; Daniel Monteiro, described as an owner of “a company” in Waterbury; Paul Rogers, a co-owner of Smoke House Tobacco; and George Tirado, the second co-owner of Smoke House Tobacco.
Authorities say that on the day of the committee vote on Senate Bill 357, Harry Raymond Soucy, a former employee of the State of Connecticut Department of Corrections and treasurer of AFSCME, Local 387, contacted Nassi, who then asked one of Donovan’s legislative aides about the status of the bill. A week later, Soucy, Rogers and an undercover FBI agent handed over four $2,500 checks in the names of conduit contributors to Nassi and Braddock at a restaurant in Southington, Conn.
Earlier this week, Soucy pleaded guilty to one count of devising a scheme to bribe a public official, and one count of conspiring to make false statements to the FEC. He faces up to 25 years in prison.
Among the other actions detailed in the indictment: on May 15, 2012, Braddock [Donovan’s former finance director] and Soucy had a series of conversations “regarding the four conduit contributions that Soucy had delivered to Nassi the previous evening.” Braddock asked for some information about the people in whose names the checks had been written.
“Just thinking about this,” Soucy told him. “I don’t know if you know, the last time, one of these asshole drug addicts bounced a check even though we put the fucking money right in their hand.”
“Right,” Braddock responded.
In another conversation that same day, Soucy returned to the same issue.
“The last time one of these assholes bounced a check even though we put their money right in their hands,” he said. “You know? You can’t trust the drunks… You know, grabbing these drunks and drug addicts and saying, ‘here, write this check.’”
“Oh, god,” Braddock said, after laughing.
“Like I said, you know, it was a very good investment for us to kill that bill,” Soucy told him. “And they want to stay friends for a long time.”
In a statement Thursday, David Fein, U.S. Attorney for the District of Connecticut, said that the FBI’s investigation into the matter is “ongoing.”
Donovan, a Democrat, has been Speaker of the House in Connecticut since 2009, and a member of the state House of Representatives for 19 years. Donovan is running for Congress in Connecticut’s 5th District, and faces a three-way Democratic primary on August 14. Just Wednesday, Donovan picked up an endorsement from The Daily Kos, which said that despite Braddock’s arrest in May, “we should stick with [Donovan].” (Donovan announced that he had fired Braddock and Nassi after Braddock’s arrest.)
In a statement on Thursday, Donovan said his “vote is not for sale and it never has been.”
“I expected sooner or later there would be developments in this ongoing investigation,” he said. “What I didn’t expect — and I’m practically speechless about — is that in spite of my hard earned reputation for honesty — and my career working for campaign finance reform — there are people who thought they could buy my vote.”
Eric Lach is a reporter for TPM. From 2010 to 2011, he was a news writer in charge of the website’s front page. He has previously written for The Daily, NewYorker.com, GlobalPost and other publications. He can be reached at ericl(at)talkingpointsmemo.com