NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) — The key prosecution witness at John Rowland's federal conspiracy trial testified Monday that he hired the former Connecticut governor as a consultant for his wife's 2012 congressional campaign and hid the arrangement as a business deal with his nursing home company.
Brian Foley told the jury that Rowland understood the agreement, sending him an email after meeting with Lisa Wilson-Foley that read in part, "I get it."
"My understanding was that 'I get it' was that I have him work for (the nursing home company) and that he is really working for the campaign," Foley said.
Foley also testified that he tried to make the consulting deal look legitimate by ensuring others at Apple Health Care Inc. believed he wanted Rowland to help the company deal with issues such as state cuts in the nursing home industry and union contracts.
Rowland is charged with obstruction of justice and conspiring with Foley and Lisa Wilson-Foley to violate campaign finance laws by failing to report $35,000 in payments to Rowland for work on her Republican campaign in the 5th Congressional District.
The Foleys pleaded guilty to conspiring to hide those payments to Rowland, which the government says amounted to illegal campaign contributions from Foley to his wife.
Rowland's defense argues that he did legitimate work for Apple and was an unpaid volunteer for Wilson-Foley's campaign.
Prosecutors presented some of the work Rowland did for Apple and tried to show that it was only cursory, especially compared with the amount of campaign work he did.
They presented a short hand-written report, which Foley testified was not what he would expect from an actual consultant. He also testified that he spoke with Rowland briefly, about 15 minutes over a six-month period, to discuss the union issues for which he was supposed to be paying him.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Liam Brennan asked Foley if that upset him.
"It didn't upset me because Mr. Rowland was doing a lot of work for the campaign and my purpose was to really pay him through the company but have him work for the campaign," he said.
Foley also testified that when it became public in 2012 that Rowland was working for Apple, former Republican Party Chairman Chris Healy, a campaign consultant, helped write the email for Apple explaining Rowland's work for them.
Healy was identified in court as an unindicted co-conspirator. He did not return calls seeking comment.
Defense attorney Reid Weingarten has said that if there was a conspiracy to hire Rowland as a health care consultant just to keep him happy in the campaign, it was between Foley and his wife — and that Rowland was not aware.
Foley acknowledged on cross-examination that Rowland also did a lot of work on Wilson-Foley's campaign for lieutenant governor in 2010, all as a volunteer. He said Rowland considered himself a mentor to Wilson-Foley and often called her by the affectionate nickname "Grasshopper" — a reference to the name used by the mentor when referring to his young student in the 1970s television show "Kung Fu."
"He was sincere and he was giving her good advice," Foley said.
Weingarten began his cross-examination by grilling Foley about arrangements he made with family and friends to reimburse them for their donations to the Wilson-Foley campaign.
Foley acknowledged he knew the deals were illegal, but said he didn't think there was much of a chance they would get caught.
Foley was scheduled to return to the stand on Tuesday.