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Rowland's arrogance again his undoing

Published April 02. 2014 4:00AM

John G. Rowland is an arrogant and reckless man, seemingly devoid of scruples. Ten years ago, he resigned as Connecticut governor for accepting gifts from state contractors and lying about it. This newspaper is proud to be among the first to demand that resignation. He later pleaded guilty to a federal felony charge of conspiracy to steal honest service and spent about 10 months in prison.

Court documents released Monday suggest the former Republican governor remained unchastened by his public humiliation and time in prison. He conspired to hide his campaign consulting work for a congressional candidate, took payment through a third party to conceal the arrangement, and in the process left an email trail of his misbehavior.

On Monday, businessman Brian Foley and his wife, former 5th District congressional candidate Lisa Wilson-Foley, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Hartford to conspiring with Mr. Rowland to violate campaign finance disclosure laws and conceal $35,000 in illegal payments to the ex-governor in 2011 and 2012.

It only appears a matter of when, not if, Mr. Rowland is indicted.

Despite the former governor's advice, Ms. Wilson-Foley failed to win the Republican nomination in an election ultimately won in November 2012 by Democrat Elizabeth Esty.

Court documents show Mr. Rowland approached the Foleys in September 2011 and suggested an arrangement in which he could be paid under the table to advise the campaign. Prior to his election as governor, Mr. Rowland served as the congressman in the 5th District and retains strong political contacts there and throughout the state.

To make the offer more enticing, court records show Mr. Rowland told the Foleys that another candidate in the race wanted his consulting services. It was a lie.

The Foleys and Mr. Rowland agreed that it would not look good to have a disgraced former governor advising the campaign. Openly working for a particular candidate would have also complicated Mr. Rowland's primary post-imprisonment job as an afternoon radio host offering political insight on WTIC-AM. (The station should end his program, but ratings are good and on Tuesday he was back on the air, refusing to comment about the scandal.)

The problem for the Foleys and Mr. Rowland is that federal law requires transparency about who is funding a campaign and where the money is going.

The scheme included a contract suggesting the payments to Mr. Rowland were for consulting work at Mr. Foley's Apple Rehab nursing home chain. The checks went through an attorney. Legally speaking, Mr. Foley's payments to Mr. Rowland constituted an undisclosed contribution to his wife's campaign, far in excess of the $7,500 limit.

Indicative of Mr. Rowland's arrogance is the fact that one of Ms. Wilson-Foley's rivals for the Republican nomination was Mike Clark, a retired FBI agent who took part in the investigation of Mr. Rowland eight years earlier. Mr. Clark, smelling the same rat, filed a complaint in April 2012 with the Federal Election Commission alleging Mr. Rowland's involvement. The complaint arrived five days after the former governor received his last $5,000 payment.

Apparently not aware emails are forever, the parties involved repeatedly referenced the scheme.

On Oct. 21, 2011, Mr. Foley emailed the unnamed attorney, advising him to "put in language that the (consulting) agreement is not for political purposes - Lisa's campaign."

A few days later the attorney responded that such wording was a bad idea because it would only draw attention. "Also since the contract is with my firm, I am not concerned it will ever be discovered," the attorney adds.

Mr. Rowland also saw no problems ahead.

"I think this arrangement is going to work out better than either one of us had anticipated," he writes in an email.

Well, maybe not. The Foleys have flipped, confessing to the conspiracy involving the former felonious governor in return for leniency come sentencing. The primary target of this investigation is Mr. Rowland.

Federal prosecutors will not be in the mood to treat him leniently. Neither should the public.

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