A Waterbury tobacco shop owner pleaded guilty in federal court Wednesday to charges that he and others conspired to bribe a state legislative leader in an effort to kill a new tobacco tax at the state Capitol.
Paul Rogers, 40, one of eight business, political and union figures indicted in the conspiracy, plead guilty in New Haven to charges of fraud and of causing phony reports of campaign contributions to be filed with federal election regulators.
Rogers and the others are accused of raising $27,500 campaign contributions, disguising the source of the money and steering it in 2011 and 2012 to the congressional campaign of Christopher Donovan, former Speaker of the state House of Representatives. The payments were part of a failed effort to kill a tax which has eroded the competitive advantage so-called roll-your-own tobacco stores had over the sellers of packaged cigarettes.
Roll-you-own stores sell loose tobacco and allow customers to pay to use expensive machinery that rolls the tobacco into cigarettes.
Donovan, a Democrat, denies any knowledge of or involvement in the conspiracy to kill the tax legislation. Neither he nor any other elected public official is charged in the case. The federal investigation remains active, according to legislative and other sources.
Two of those charged in the case are former employees of Donovan's unsuccessful 2012 campaign for Congress from the state's 5th District . Robert Braddock, Jr. was the Donovan campaign's finance director and Joshua Nassi was campaign manager.
Donovan was an early favorite to win the 5th district seat, but withdrew after his aides were implicated in the alleged conspiracy to kill the tax bill.
Rogers, a part owner of two, roll-your-own tobacco stores in Waterbury, is the third of those indicted in the conspiracy case to plead guilty.
Harry Raymond Soucy, a former state prison guard and officer in the labor union that represents the guards, pleaded guilty to fraud and a campaign reporting violation in July after agreeing to cooperate with authorities investigating the conspiracy. David Moffa, another former officer in the prison guard union, pleaded guilty in November to conspiring to cause a false campaign report to be filed.
The others accused in the indictment also are expected to plead guilty to similar charges, according to lawyers involved in the case.
The indictment in the case charges that the roll-your-own businessmen feared that the proposed tax increase threatened the tens of thousands of dollars they had recently invested in cigarette rolling machines.
Moffa directed the tobacco retailers to Soucy, who introduced them to Donovan's campaign staff, the indictment says. Donovan's campaign aides are accused of participation in the conspiracy. But the indictment does not assert that Donovan was aware of it.