Likely to become the first Connecticut governor in history to go to jail, former Gov. John Rowland pleaded guilty to a federal felony corruption charge Dec. 23.
By pleading guilty to conspiracy to steal honest services, Rowland admitted to accepting over $100,000 in gifts in exchange for political favors, primarily state construction contracts.
In particular, Rowland acknowledged that he took part in agreements that awarded valuable contracts to William Tomasso, a contractor who gave Rowland thousands of dollars in gifts. Gifts Rowland received from Tomasso and others included free charter airplane flights and a hot tub for his vacation home.
Rowland’s plea is the latest stage in a scandal that prompted his resignation from office in July in the midst of impeachment proceedings and a federal investigation into his conduct.
The 47-year-old former governor, a Republican, awaits sentencing on March 11. Federal guidelines suggest a sentence of 15 to 21 months in jail, though the maximum sentence for the crime is five years in prison and $250,000 in fines.
After Rowland’s plea, his attorney, William F. Dow III ’63, told The Associated Press he would urge the judge to consider a reduced sentence due to mitigating factors, including the former governor’s record of political accomplishments.
In response to Rowland’s guilty plea, current Gov. M. Jodi Rell — who served alongside Rowland as lieutenant governor for nearly 10 years — released a statement expressing her disappointment in her predecessor.
“Today the state of Connecticut was humiliated, and I, as John Rowland’s former running mate and colleague, feel personally betrayed,” Rell said. “My anger has only hardened my resolve to continue righting the ship of state. We must make certain our government works for the benefit of all citizens and ensure that this never happens again.”
In her Jan. 5 State of the State Address, Rell repeatedly referred to her work to restore integrity to the state government and emphasized the need for “ethics reform.”
New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr., who has declared his intent to run for governor in 2006, said Rowland’s plea ought to encourage the state to take legislative action to decrease the likelihood of such corruption in the future.
“I would hope this session of the General Assembly really looks hard at how we finance campaigns,” DeStefano said. “Frankly, fund raising creates opportunities for people to take advantage of relationships.”
Rell spokesman Dennis Schain said the governor has already been looking at ways to regulate campaign financing, including meeting with several advocacy groups. He said he expects the governor will present a campaign finance package to the General Assembly during this year’s legislative session.
“The governor has made it clear it’s a new day in Connecticut,” Schain said. “It’s been one of her top priorities to restore integrity to the state government.”
Connecticut has a recent history of corruption. Former State Treasurer Paul Silvester and former Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim are currently in prison on separate corruption charges, and Stamford Mayor Dannel Malloy is currently under investigation for work done on his home by city contractors.
Once considered an up-and-coming figure in the Republican Party, Rowland was the nation’s youngest governor when he took the position in 1995. He was reelected by a wide margin in 1998 and 2002.
But at the end of 2003, allegations surfaced that the governor had received home improvements paid for by state contractors. After initially denying the allegations, Rowland admitted to receiving the renovations and apologized. During this time, a federal investigation into his administration was being launched, and the State House of Representatives soon formed a committee to investigate whether the governor should be impeached.
As a felon, Rowland is now unable to vote or run for elected office.