HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Former Connecticut Gov. John G. Rowland's federal conspiracy trial may hinge on a cryptic email in which he acknowledged an offer to become a paid consultant for a nursing home company owned by a political candidate's husband.
Rowland, who is set to go on trial Wednesday, is accused of accepting $35,000 in consulting fees from Lisa Wilson-Foley's 2012 congressional campaign disguised as payments from the nursing home chain.
Rowland says he did nothing wrong. He has pleaded not guilty to conspiracy, falsifying records in a federal investigation, causing false statements to be made to the Federal Election Commission and causing illegal campaign contributions.
Foley and his wife pleaded guilty in March to conspiring to make illegal campaign contributions.
Prosecutors say the Foleys came up with the plan to hide Rowland's campaign role amid concern they would be criticized if it were discovered they paid for advice from an ex-convict. Rowland served 10 months in prison after pleading guilty almost a decade ago to accepting gifts while in office.
"Had a brief chat with Lisa," Rowland wrote to an email Brian Foley. "I get it. Let's you and I meet."
The government alleges the email is evidence of the conspiracy. Rowland's attorneys argue he was simply showing that he understood that the Foleys wanted him to work for the business and not the campaign.
Rowland's lawyers have attempted to block Foley from giving another interpretation of what Rowland meant in that email.
Foley is expected to testify that Rowland approached the couple to offer his services as a political consultant. He also is expected to testify that the amount of the payment was based on Rowland's assertions that a rival candidate, Mark Greenberg, had offered to pay him $7,500 to $8,000 a month, which prosecutors say also was to be hidden.
"Mr. Foley responded to this prospect by offering Mr. Rowland a consulting agreement with (the nursing home chain)," prosecutors wrote in a court filing. "They then negotiated Mr. Rowland's rate by negotiating down from the rate Mr. Greenberg had ostensibly offered Rowland for his campaign activities."
Judge Janet Arterton said after a hearing Tuesday that she will allow into evidence seven emails that show some communications between Foley and his lawyers may contradict his grand jury testimony. Prosecutors had accidentally given the emails to the defense along with other discovery material.
Rowland could receive another federal prison sentence if convicted.
But not everyone believes that is likely.
Hugh Keefe, a well-known trial attorney who has represented several high-profile politicians accused of corruption, said the Federal Election Commission often handles cases like this one administratively, usually with a fine.
"I think people can honestly ponder why the federal government is pouring time, money and resources into this prosecution, because it's a relatively small amount of money involved and John Rowland is now a private citizen," said Keefe, who is representing several potential witnesses in the case. "By federal standards, it's on the lower end of the scale as far as crimes go."