NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) — A federal jury on Thursday began deliberating the fate of former Gov. John G. Rowland, who is accused of conspiring to hide work on two political campaigns as business deals.
Rowland, who served 10 months in federal prison a decade ago for taking illegal gifts while in office, faces seven counts this time, including obstruction of justice, conspiracy to violate election law and falsifying records.
"This is a case that goes to the very heart of the most basic right we have in America, the right to vote, the right to make informed decisions about who is going to represent us," Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Mattei said in his summation Thursday.
The key to the government's case is the testimony of millionaire businessman Brian Foley, who said he paid Rowland $35,000 to work on the 2012 congressional campaign of his wife, Republican Lisa Wilson-Foley, but hid those payments through a consulting contract with Apple Health Care Inc., the nursing home chain he owned.
The Foleys each pleaded guilty in the spring to a misdemeanor of conspiring to make an illegal campaign donation in the form of the $35,000 in payments to Rowland.
Rowland's attorney said the contract with Apple was legitimate and the campaign work strictly voluntary.
Mattei said Rowland had tried to strike a similar arrangement in 2010 with another candidate, Mark Greenberg. Greenberg testified during the trial that he rejected hiring Rowland as a political consultant after the former governor asked to be paid up to $35,000 a month through his animal-rescue business.
The prosecutor told the jurors that Rowland's expertise made him a valuable campaign asset but that he couldn't do that work publicly because of his political baggage.
"Hiring John Rowland on your campaign is like giving your opponent a loaded gun and saying shoot me," Mattei said.
Mattei said Rowland was Wilson-Foley's de facto campaign manager and used his radio show to tout her candidacy.
"You have a guy who is on the air preaching to a conservative audience," he said. "Imagine the power of this radio show for Lisa Wilson-Foley's campaign."
He also pointed out a large disparity between the hundreds of emails and dozens of phone calls Rowland made while doing campaign business, and the relatively few he made on behalf of Apple.
During his closing argument, Rowland's lawyer Reid Weingarten hammered at Foley's credibility. He pointed out that Foley illegally contributed more than $500,000 to his wife's campaign and got around other campaign laws by promising to pay back family and friends for their donations.
Foley avoided the possibility of 40 years in prison by striking a deal with the government to testify against Rowland, Weingarten said.
Weingarten argued that Rowland "killed himself" as a volunteer for Wilson-Foley, his protege, while doing substantive work for her husband's company.
He pointed to company emails and the testimony of Brian Bedard, the chief operating officer, who said Rowland provided him with meaningful consultation.
"You can't be half pregnant," Weingarten said "Either this was a fraud or it was real, legitimate business."
He also pointed out that Rowland had provided free political services to Wilson-Foley during her 2010 campaign for lieutenant governor. He said there was no hiding the fact that Rowland was supporting Wilson-Foley, calling him the "8,000-pound gorilla in the room."
Weingarten said whether Foley believed hiring Rowland for Apple would benefit his wife's campaign is irrelevant. The issue is whether Rowland knew about a conspiracy or whether he believed he was doing real work.
He argued the earlier contract with Greenberg, which was never executed, was broad enough to cover political work, and only would have been illegal if Greenberg had entered into it and had failed to report it to the Federal Election Commission.
Jurors deliberated briefly Thursday afternoon and will continue the talks Friday morning.