Foleys Plead Guilty In Campaign Scheme Linked To Rowland

Brian Foley (center) and Lisa Wilson-Foley (right) walk out of court Monday after pleading guilty. (RICK HARTFORD)

HARTFORD — Businessman Brian Foley and his wife, former congressional candidate Lisa Wilson-Foley, admitted in court Monday that they used a sham consulting contract with former Gov. John G. Rowland to pay him for secret political assistance to Wilson-Foley's 2012 campaign.

Both Foleys pleaded guilty Monday in U.S. District Court to conspiring with Rowland and others to violate campaign finance law by concealing $35,000 Brian Foley paid the ex-governor in 2011 and 2012 through a business and law office associated with his nursing home chain, Apple Rehab.

Brian Foley has been cooperating with federal authorities, who people familiar with the matter said are building a case to indict Rowland. In connection with the cooperation, Foley and his wife negotiated plea agreements in which they both admitted guilt to misdemeanor charges with maximum penalties of a year in prison.

The couple pleaded guilty in successive hearings in federal court in Hartford before U.S. Magistrate Judge Donna F. Martinez.

"I did not report money that my husband paid to John Rowland while he was working on my campaign," Lisa Wilson-Foley, 54, said during her hearing.

Brian Foley, 62, told the court: "I knowingly and intentionally conspired with co-conspirator one, who was John Rowland."

Rowland is not identified by name in prosecution documents filed in court Monday. But in remarks to the court, both of the Foleys and Assistant U.S. Attorney Liam Brennan said Rowland is "co-conspirator 1" described in the documents as concealing his role as a paid consultant to the Wilson-Foley campaign.

Three other people are identified in prosecution documents as unindicted co-conspirators. One was a senior Wilson-Foley political adviser, one is a senior officer of Foley's nursing home chain and Foley identified the other in court as his business lawyer. They have not been identified by name.

People familiar with the case said Rowland, who recently retained a Washington, D.C., law firm, has had unsuccessful talks with prosecutors about a possible plea agreement. Rowland is employed as a talk show host for radio station WTIC-AM. Rowland's show was preempted by a baseball game Monday. The station did not respond to Courant messages seeking comment as to whether his status as on-air host might be affected.

Rowland resigned during his third term in mid-2004 after he and senior members of his administration were identified as targets of a far-reaching federal corruption investigation. He later pleaded guilty to corruption-related charges and spent 10 months in prison.

As a practical matter, the conviction made Rowland unemployable as a political consultant. A prosecution document asserts that the couple expected to be battered by critical press coverage if the consulting relationship became public. Even Rowland warned of negative consequences, according to an email cited in the document.

Bad Press

"I want to stay under the radar as much as possible and get the job done …want to avoid a bad article… ," Rowland wrote to Wilson-Foley in an email, according to the prosecution document. "I am just a volunteer helping you and 'many other Republican candidates' in case anyone asks."

It was Rowland who approached the Foleys in early September 2011 about joining the campaign as a secret consultant, according to the prosecution document. At the time, Wilson-Foley was one of several Republicans competing for the party's 2012 nomination to run for Congress in the 5th District.

"I have an idea to run by you, what days are good?" Rowland wrote in an email cited by the prosecution document.

Rowland met with both Foleys a week later and suggested that he be paid to replace a Washington-based consultant hired by the Wilson-Foley campaign.

Rowland had previously offered his services to Mark Greenberg, a competing Republican candidate, Greenberg has told federal investigators. The prosecution document said that Rowland claimed to have turned down an offer to work for Greenberg, but that Greenberg never offered Rowland a job.

Brian Foley admitted Monday that he helped draft a consulting contract that made it appear that Rowland was being paid $5,000 a month for providing business advice to Apple Rehab. Foley said the monthly checks to Rowland were drawn on a real estate company Foley owns and passed through the office of his business lawyer.

The prosecution document said the lawyer – referred to as "Attorney 1" – recommended that "due to … [Rowland's] background" and other issues "that the contract be between my Law Office and [Rowland] — that way there is no connections."

The document did not identify the lawyer, nor was the lawyer identified during Monday's proceedings.