Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Rowland Wrinkle


It’s a he said, he said controversy.

The parties in dispute are former radio talk show host John Rowland’s attorneys and the attorneys for Lisa Wilson Foley, who was, at the time she was charged and found guilty of a misdemeanor by prosecutors, a failed candidate for the US House of Representatives in the Connecticut corruption infested 5th District.

Before the Rowland/Lisa Wilson Foley/Brian Foley prosecution, Speaker of the State House Chris Dovovan saw his bid for the 5th District seat go up in flames after his campaign finance director and other political associates were successfully prosecuted for bribery. Mr. Donovan himself was saved from the slammer, but the whirl of corruption wafted others prisonward. Ultimately, the 5th District seat was captured by Elizabeth Esty following a brief campaign tousle with Andrew Roraback, a fiscally conservative, socially liberal Republican appointed, upon losing the 5th District race to Ms. Esty, to the Connecticut Superior Court bench by Governor Dannel Malloy. Taking the 5th – a neat title of a possible book on the subject – was a ruinous affair for many Connecticut politicians.  Reputation setbacks are predictable whenever the Feds become involved in political corruption prosecutions. The FBI usually gets its man-- or woman as the case may be -- because prosecutorial means weigh far more than defense means on the scales of justice.

One can count on one finger of one hand the number of Connecticut editors, reporters and commentators who sincerely wished that the prosecution’s charges against the Foleys and Rowland would not stand up to scrutiny by a jury of their peers. In particular, Rowland’s rooting section was very small: his long-suffering wife, his children and his very expensive lawyers. Nearly everyone else – Governor Dannel Malloy, once a prosecutor himself, now a successful political sharpie, hard hitting left of center columnists, Democratic politicians chaffed by Mr. Rowland’s partisan commentary as a radio talk show host and everyone on the left of center side of Connecticut’s political barricades – were patiently awaiting the jury’s verdict, while braiding a hangman’s noose.

They had not long to wait. In short order, the jury returned a verdict of guilty against all three: the radio talk show host, the prosperous owner of Apple Rehab and his wife. End of story – but for the wrinkle.

Early on in the Rowland investigation, one newspaper reported that prosecutors had told Brian Foley they would send his wife to the slammer for ten years or more if he did not co-operate with them in their effort to send the radio talk show host to the slammer for ten years or more. Weighing his options – wife in prison verses radio talk show host in prison – Mr. Foley came to a decision that, he perhaps hoped, would save himself, his marriage and his business. Under pressure of seeing his wife carted off by the Wicked Witch of the East’s impets, thereafter to be deposited in a dank prison for ten years, the loving husband promised his fealty to prosecutors. And the canary began to sing – or rather rap.

Here’s the rap: Mr. Rowland – certainly not Mr. Foley or his wife – was the principal architect of a scheme to deprive the federal government of tax receipts. This may not be true; some evidence supplied by Mr. Foley himself suggests that he was the leader of the band and the financier of the conspiracy. In return for his confession and cooperation, Mr. Foley received the equivalent of a slap on the wrist. He was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Janet Bond Arterton to probation, three months in a halfway house and a $30,000 fine, not a bad deal for a multi-millionaire. However, Mr. Foley’s uncooperative wife awaits a more severe sentence – possibly ten months in the hoosegow on a misdemeanor charge to which she pleaded guilty. Prosecutors are asking for a more punitive sentence because Mrs. Foley had not agreed to support the prosecution’s narrative of events, which she claimed was not gospel truth. Poor Mr. Foley; who will drive his business while his wife is cooling her high heels in prison?

And here’s the wrinkle: Mrs. Foley claims to have been deceived by Mr. Foley, who assured her that Mr. Rowland was indeed paid by Mr. Foley for consulting services he provided to Mr. Foley’s business. Mr. Foley also told managers of his business that Mr. Rowland was a paid consultant whose recommendations they should heed. As proof of her assertions, Mrs. Foley offered to the court affidavits showing that she had, in private meeting with prosecutors, offered unchanging sworn testimony that she was convinced Mr. Rowland had been paid by her husband for consulting services. Ms. Foley also labored under the misapprehension that Mr. Rowland was advising her campaign without charge, a piece of naiveté that should have disqualified her from holding any public office on planet earth, where pay to play is an inflexible political rule. Political payments often may be laundered through third parties – but they are made, one way or another.

When Mr. Rowland’s lawyers discovered that there was hard evidence -- in the form of affidavits representing discussions held between Ms. Foley, her lawyers and prosecutors -- that might have supported their defense in the recently concluded Rowland trial, they asked for yet another trial during which the presumptive exculpatory evidence might be presented to a jury unpolluted by the prosecution’s politically sexy but fanciful narratives. The prosecution recently argued before Judge Arterton that Rowland’s defense was provided with all the information at their disposal. While agreeing with the prosecution brief, Judge Arterton generously allowed Rowland’s defense attorneys to make their case in a more detailed manner.

After which one expects the usual political hanging to proceed without further unseemly interruptions.
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