A federal jury on Tuesday convicted a former aide to ex-Connecticut House Speaker Christopher Donovan in connection with illegal contributions to Donovan’s failed congressional campaign last year.
The jury in New Haven found Robert Braddock Jr. guilty of campaign finance and conspiracy charges, only hours after hearing closing arguments. Braddock was the finance manager for Donovan’s campaign for the 5th Congressional District seat. Donovan’s congressional campaign ended up getting derailed by the allegations.
Prosecutors say Braddock and seven other co-defendants who pleaded guilty were involved in a scheme that funneled nearly $28,000 to Donovan’s campaign through straw donors.
Authorities say the scheme was aimed at getting Donovan to kill proposed state legislation to raise taxes on roll-your-own cigarette shops last year. Shop owners gave the money to employees and others, who then wrote checks to Donovan’s campaign to conceal the fact that the money was coming from the store owners.
Defense lawyer Frank Riccio II said Braddock has not decided if he will appeal, but an appeal is likely.
Donovan wasn’t charged. As he has since Braddock was charged last year, Donovan insisted he’s innocent in an appearance outside the courthouse Tuesday before the verdict was reached.
"I talk to people all the time about issues that concern them. I knew they were concerned about their small businesses. I’m concerned about small businesses," he said. "There was no quid pro quo."
"My vote was never for sale," the former speaker said.
Riccio criticized Donovan for the appearance.
"The timing was surprising," the defense lawyer said. "He literally has been incommunicado since August," when Donovan lost in the primary to Elizabeth Esty, who went on to win the general election in November.
Braddock pleaded not guilty in the case and didn’t testify at his trial. The defense rested Monday without calling a single witness.
The jury convicted Braddock of three counts — accepting more than $10,000 in federal campaign contributions made by persons in the names of others; conspiring to make false statements to the Federal Election Commission and to defraud the U.S. by impeding the FEC; and causing a false report to be filed with the FEC.
Braddock faces up to 12 years in prison and a possible fine of up to $750,000 at his sentencing Aug. 13.
Deirdre M. Daly, acting U.S. attorney, said the evidence during the trial "revealed a disturbing scheme operated by individuals who believed that our federal campaign finance laws are meaningless, and that the legislative process can be easily corrupted with campaign contributions."
"This case demonstrates exactly why our campaign finance laws exist in the first place and why this system must be transparent," she said.
The bill on roll-your-own tobacco shops failed in last year’s regular session, but was approved in a subsequent special session.
Jurors heard audio and video recordings of Braddock and Donovan obtained by Harry Ray Soucy, a former state prison guard and labor union official who has acknowledged facilitating the straw donations and cooperated with prosecutors.
Soucy wore hidden video recording equipment to the Democratic nominating convention for the congressional seat in Waterbury in May of last year. He managed to get a brief meeting with Donovan behind the closed curtain of the auditorium stage. The video shows Donovan, who apparently was surprised by Soucy’s visit, exchanging greetings with Soucy, and Donovan saying, "I took care of you, didn’t I?"
Soucy thanked Donovan and told him he had another $10,000 to give to Donovan’s campaign manager, Joshua Nassi, who also has pleaded guilty in the case.
The video shows Donovan appearing to get upset and telling Soucy, "I didn’t kill the bill. I worked on the legislative side. I did what’s right," before walking away.