John G. Rowland was a valuable asset to the 2012 congressional campaign of Lisa Wilson-Foley SPH ’88 — fundraising, contacting delegates, preparing her for debates and managing all genres of crises.
The only snag was that the ex-governor was not being compensated for this work. Instead, he was being paid for a sham consulting position with a nursing home company owned by the candidate’s husband, according to Brian Foley SPH ’81, the company’s owner and the government’s key witness in its corruption case against Rowland. The case, which resumed Monday, is being tried in U.S. District Court in New Haven.
The government is accusing Rowland — who served 10 months in prison on a corruption conviction after resigning as governor in 2004 — of violating federal election law by twice conspiring to conceal political consulting activities.
In September 2011, Rowland offered to advise Wilson-Foley in her campaign for the 5th congressional district, a district he had represented two decades prior. The ex-governor had made a similar pitch two years earlier to Mark Greenberg, who is running for the seat for the third time in six years this fall, Greenberg testified last week. He said he rebuffed the offer.
The Foleys, on the other hand, were interested in what Rowland could do for them. As a former congressman from the district and a stalwart of the Republican Party in Connecticut, Rowland offered a service too good to turn down. But in some circles — and particularly with the news media, Foley testified — the ex-governor was toxic. The Simsbury couple was worried that putting him on the campaign’s payroll would doom Wilson-Foley’s chances.
Two days after Rowland made his pitch to the candidate and her husband in an hour-long meeting in the lobby of a Farmington hotel, the idea struck Foley: “I may have something for Mr. Rowland at Apple,” he recalled telling his wife, referring to Apple Rehab, the health care company he operates in Connecticut and Rhode Island.
Foley, 62, testified Monday that he knew at the time the arrangement was “illegal,” designed to conceal campaign expenditures from the Federal Elections Commission. The couple has pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges stemming from those dealings. Foley is testifying for the government as part of a cooperation agreement he signed that could factor into his sentencing.
When Foley wrote to Rowland to offer this alternative, the ex-governor emailed back, “I get it,” according to messages displayed Monday in court.
Foley testified that the reply signaled acknowledgement that he would “hire him for Apple, and he’s really working for the campaign.” Foley said he concealed the arrangement further by having his attorney, Christopher Shelton, pay Rowland, rather than compensating him out of the company’s regular funds. He testified that, for two years, he never put in writing Rowland’s function as a campaign consultant.
“I understood that would be a smoking gun,” he said. Rowland’s contract went through multiple edits to scrub it of language that, in Foley’s view, would have tied him to the campaign. On paper, Foley said, the ex-governor was employed to provide feedback on management decisions and consult him on “union avoidance” among staff at his nursing homes. He was paid $5,000 a month, beginning in October 2011.
In one email to Foley, the ex-governor asked if using the name of Rowland’s consulting firm, JGR Associates, would offer additional “cover.”
When Assistant U.S. Attorney Liam Brennan LAW ’07 asked Foley what he understood “cover” to mean, the health care executive said it meant “cover for the fact that I really am paying him for working on the campaign.”
“We felt it would never be discovered,” Foley added. Meanwhile, Rowland’s services were crucial, more so than those of any other campaign staffers, he testified: “Mr. Rowland came up with most of the ideas.”
When questions were raised in December about Rowland’s involvement in the campaign, advisors scrambled to prepare a press statement distinguishing the ex-governor’s work for Apple and his “20-year friendship” with the Foleys, according to a statement projected during direct examination of Foley.
Foley testified that another red flag appeared when Rowland asked for a renegotiation of his contract. The two men were speaking by phone when Rowland said, “how about a $10,000 bonus if Lisa wins the convention?” Foley testified.
Foley said he responded by pretending “static on the phone” prevented him from hearing properly, at which point Rowland “chuckled and never brought it up again,” he testified.
Rowland’s defense attorney, Reid H. Weingarten, attempted to paint Foley as obsessed with his wife’s political ambitions, willing to contravene the law and put his family members and friends at risk to enrich her campaign.
In cross-examination, Foley admitted not only to unlawfully putting $500,000 of his own money into his wife’s campaign but to making informal arrangements with his sister, nephew, niece and best friend from seventh grade that prompted each to donate the maximum $7,500. Foley said he found a way to return the favor, paying their bills or finding others ways to “make them whole.”
He also moved money from his children’s accounts — into which he has pumped “many, many millions of dollars” — into his wife’s campaign chest, Foley told jurors.
When asked if he willingly put his family and himself at risk of criminal wrongdoing for the sake of his wife’s campaign, Foley replied, “I guess I did, yes.”
Andrew Roraback ’83, a state legislator, ultimately clinched the Republican nomination in 2012, only to fall to Democrat Elizabeth Esty LAW ’85 in the general election.