It is now pretty obvious that former Speaker of the House Chris Donovan was the intended subject of a political sting operation conducted by the FBI in Connecticut in order to expose a pay-to-play scheme involving roll your own smoke shop owners who wished to kill a bill that would have imposed on them the same crippling taxes levied on cigarette manufacturers.
Several associates of Mr. Donovan, most notably his finance chairman, were caught in the net, but the big fish got away. If the prosecution of possibly corrupt lead political actors is the test of a successful sting operation, this one failed.
To be sure, Mr. Donovan’s political prospects did not survive the sting; the scandal -- driven forward, as usual, by supposition and surmise – forced Mr. Donovan to withdraw as a Democratic Party candidate for the U.S. Congress in Connecticut’s 5th District, and his political reputation, such as it was, suffered irreparable damage, even though no charges have as yet been brought against him.
The usual standard against which political rectitude is measured, the so called “appearance of corruption,” was much in evidence as one after another of Mr. Donovan’s political associates either made plea arrangements with prosecutors or – bravely in former finance chairman Robert Braddock’s case – sought to recover their tattered reputations at trial. Mr. Braddock’s effort likely will not be successful.
Unlike other Connecticut sting operations – the ordeal of former Republican Party Senate leader Lou DeLuca comes to mind – no public confession of wrongdoing has yet been wrung from Mr. Donovan.
Every sting operation involves some sort of byzantine entrapment, usually facilitated by a singing canary who has been brought under the hobnailed boot of prosecutors. The threat of prosecution, like the promise of execution in the morning, clears the mind wonderfully; it also distorts the truth.
The chief canary in the Dovovan sting, former union operative Ray Soucy, is a rare bird, a character who might have appeared as a low level sub-criminal in any Elmore Leonard novel. Under the baleful eye of prosecutors, Mr. Soucy continually, almost comically, pushed the envelope. He cornered Mr. Donovan during a Democratic Party convention and dutifully attempted to draw a criminal noose around Mr. Donovan’s neck.
In a video shown at the Braddock trial Mr. Soucy is shown thanking Mr. Donovan for killing a bill injurious to the interests of roll your own smoke shops to which Mr. Donovan replies, “I didn’t kill the bill I worked on the legislative side. I did what’s right,” almost as if Mr. Donovan had been forewarned that a sting was in process.
Mr. Soucy also paid a visit to Republican leader Larry Cafero’s lair and attempted to stuff his refrigerator with campaign cash. He was successfully rebuffed by Mr. Cafero, after which the persistent Mr. Soucy converted the cash into five $1,000 checks. According to one report, Mr. Cafero returned the questionable checks from conduit contributors and called a press conference in the course of which he explained what had happened, lifting the veil of secrecy shrouding the sting operation a full year before Mr. Braddock appeared at trial to defend himself.
When the veil was raised on the sting, the operation ground to a halt and prosecutors hauled in their catch. The prosecution’s fishing expedition may not yet be over. CTNewsJunkie has reported that “regardless of what Donovan or his surrogates have said about his motivation to end the conversation with Soucy that evening, or what, if anything, Donovan knew about the donations before the convention, Soucy has now provided evidence that Donovan was made aware that the smoke shop owners had been trying to bribe him to kill the RYO [Roll Your Own] legislation. Failure to report a bribe is a Class A Misdemeanor.”
The failure to report a bribe statute was passed into law following media pressure to create such a statute after the DeLuca sting operation. In November of 2007, this commentator noted in Connecticut Commentary as well as in a clolumn, “It has come time now for DeLuca’s comrades in the legislature to do the right thing. And the right thing would be to devise a rule that would rid the legislature of anyone who declined to report a bribe they had been offered.