Campaign manager pleads guilty

A former congressional campaign manager entered the fifth guilty plea in an investigation that has ensnarled the inner circle of the previous speaker of the Connecticut House of Representatives.

Joshua Nassi, 34, who worked as campaign manager for then-Speaker Christopher Donovan during his ill-fated 2012 run for Congress, pled guilty to a conspiracy charge before a judge in U.S. District Court in New Haven last Friday. In a deal with prosecutors, Nassi admitted to making a false statement to the Federal Elections Commission but was assured that he will not face any other charges or be required to testify against anyone. The charge is a felony that may result, at most, in five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Nassi admitted to accepting “straw” donations for Donovan’s campaign, when owners of Connecticut tobacco shops gave funds to individuals without formal connections to the tobacco industry, who then gave the money to the campaign. Along with Donovan’s former campaign finance director Robert Braddock, Nassi is accused of running a “pay-to-play” scheme, in which he and Braddock agreed to thwart state legislation that would levy new taxes on the shops in exchange for the donations. In total, the improper donations amounted to $27,500.

“I knew that there were contributions given to the campaign that were in the name of others,” Nassi told the court. “I allowed those contributions to be accepted by the campaign, knowing they would be submitted to the FEC.”

Judge Janet Arterton, who presided over Friday’s plea hearing, will sentence Nassi on July 16. In the meantime, he remains free on a $100,000 bond, which is backed by his mother’s house in Fairfield, Conn.

Nassi’s attorney, William Bloss, said he remains confident in the wake of the plea that Arterton will hand down a less severe sentence than the maximum penalty, suggesting that Nassi’s otherwise clean criminal history might lead the judge to exercise leniency.

“I expect that she is going to put together a fair sentence that reflects all of the issues that she has to take into consideration,” Bloss said Wednesday.

According to Bloss, Nassi has had no contact with Donovan, who has not been accused of any wrongdoing, this year. Shortly after news of the campaign finance scandal broke in the spring of 2012, Donovan lost his bid for the Democratic nomination for Connecticut’s 5th Congressional District to Elizabeth Esty, who went on to win the seat in November.

Nevertheless, Donovan issued a two-sentence statement on Friday lamenting the recent turn of events, but also maintained his distance from Nassi.

Nassi’s plea came on the same day as another guilty plea from an individual involved in the scandal, this time an employee of Waterbury’s Smoke House Tobacco, Ben Hogan. Hogan also faces up to five years in prison.

“Today’s guilty pleas serve as a reminder that there are consequences for those who undermine the integrity of the legislative process by engaging in a concealed pay-to-play system,” FBI Special Agent in Charge Kimberly Mertz said in a statement issued Friday.

Approximately two-thirds of the “straw” funds funneled to Donovan’s campaign came from an undercover FBI agent posing as an investor in a roll-your-own tobacco shop.

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