By DAVE ALTIMARI and JON LENDER, firstname.lastname@example.org
The Hartford Courant
11:18 PM EDT, May 14, 2013
On an audio tape played during Tuesday's federal trial of the finance director for former House Speaker Christopher Donovan's congressional campaign, a Donovan supporter can be heard saying he would thank the former speaker for helping to kill a proposed law to tax roll-your-own tobacco shops.
The tape captured a May 2012 conversation between Harry Raymond Soucy, a supporter of Donovan's failed congressional campaign, and smoke shop owner Paul Rogers as they sat in the back room of a Waterbury shop. Soucy talked about what he would say to Donovan that night at the Democratic nominating convention.
"Thank you very much for killing the bill, Chris ya know," Soucy can be heard on the grainy audio tape played at the second day of the trial of Robert Braddock.
The meeting earlier that day between Rogers and Soucy was being secretly taped by Soucy, who by then was an FBI informant.
Within weeks, Rogers and seven others, including Braddock, were charged with conspiring to violate campaign finance laws by disguising the source of about $30,000 in contributions the smoke shop owners made to Donovan's congressional campaign.
While the others have plead guilty and are awaiting sentencing, Braddock chose to go to trial. Rogers finished his testimony Tuesday as the government played numerous tapes of conversations that Soucy taped involving Braddock, Donovan campaign manager Josh Nassi and several smoke shop owners.
Braddock is charged with violating campaign finance laws by accepting what are known as conduit contributions. But the trial will turn on what the government has said motivated the alleged deception – the efforts in 2011 and 2012 by the roll-your-own tobacco industry to derail tax legislation that ultimately would eliminate their profitability.
The political scandal created by the fundraising conspiracy is widely viewed as untracking Donovan's campaign for Congress. But he has consistently denied any knowledge of, or involvement in, improper fundraising or a conspiracy to kill the tax bill.
The bill was killed in the Senate, a point that a spokesman for Donovan made outside the courtroom Tuesday.
"Chris Donovan did nothing on the roll-your-own bill," said Audrey Honig Geragosian. "Any implication that he had something to do with that is clearly false."
Geragosian and Donovan's criminal attorney Shelley Sadin have attended both days of Braddock's trial.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Mattei asked Rogers about three meetings with Braddock. In all three instances, Rogers testified, Braddock was given checks that were written by conduit contributors that Rogers and other smoke shop owners lined up.
The backroom meeting at the smoke shop between Rogers and Soucy was after the bill had been killed. The $10,000 was going to be a "thank you" to Donovan's campaign for their efforts to get the legislation killed, Rogers testified.
Under cross examination by defense attorney Frank Riccio II, Rogers acknowledged that he had spent barely two hours with Braddock and that as far as Rogers knew the person from the campaign that Soucy dealt with was Nassi.
Riccio also tried to use Rogers to chip away at Soucy's credibility asking him if he considered his friend a "sketchy" character who "talks in a dirty, slimy kind of way."
During the government's presentation, questions about donations made to House Republican Leader Lawrence Cafero were also raised.
On a tape of an April 2012 conversation, Soucy and Rogers talked about needing more straw donors because another $10,000 needed to go to Donovan and $5,000 to Cafero. Rogers testified that $5,000 in cash was originally given by Soucy in an envelope to John Healey, an aide to Cafero, for the House Republicans' political action committee.
He testified that Healey accepted the envelope in March of last year– shortly after Soucy, Rogers and another individual met with Cafero at the GOP leader's office.
During that meeting, Soucy talked of the roll-your-own shop owners' concerns about proposed new taxes on them, Cafero recalled in an interview Tuesday. He said Soucy mentioned in the meeting he planned to donate on behalf of "my guys," and Cafero told him "we don't do that here in the building" and suggested he talk to Healey after hours, when the aide could act as a "volunteer" on his own time.
Cafero said he assumed the donation would be from a correction officers' committee that Soucy had talked about with him repeatedly in the past – not the roll-your-own shop owners.
When Healey told Cafero that the envelope from Soucy contained cash, Cafero said he told Healey to find Soucy and return it because "we don't accept cash" since contributions that big are only legal in check form. Healey found Soucy that same day, returned the cash, and initiated arrangements for Soucy to contribute five $1,000 checks instead, Cafero said.
When the five checks came in later, one was from Anne Soucy, who lives at the same Naugatuck address as Ray Soucy and is 20 years older. Asked if that check made him suspicious that the money was being passed through a "straw" donor, Cafero said he never knew who the donors were because Healey handled the five checks and put them in the bank.
Cafero said he didn't know anything was amiss until the FBI told him on the day Braddock was arrested that the $5,000 likely was money that federal authorities had given to the alleged conspirators to "spread around" in the investigation, Cafero said.
Cafero said he told them he didn't feel comfortable having House Republicans keep the money, and intended to return it to the donors. He said they told him, "we'd appreciate it if you didn't do that right away." But Cafero said he made sure checks were sent back to the donors anyway, and told the FBI, "I'm sorry," but he felt he had to.
Soucy is expected to testify on Wednesday.
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