Rowland — Now Called 'Co-Conspirator' — Told Judge In 2005 He Hoped To 'Serve Others'

On March 18, 2005, ex-Gov. John G. Rowland stood before a federal judge who in a moment would sentence him for corruption and spoke of his desire to redeem himself and serve others, as he did in the past.

"I began my life in politics as someone who wanted to serve," Rowland told Senior Judge Peter C. Dorsey in U.S. District Court in New Haven, according to an official transcript obtained by Government Watch in recent days."Though I made mistakes, those same basic instincts remained. I am confident that I can continue to serve others in some way."

"I do believe that there is a spiritual purpose in all the tragedies and all the failures that we encounter in life," he said. "That's been my strength and my family's strength, and although this has been a horrific experience for me, it has also been a humbling and meaningful journey towards personal and spiritual growth. I realize how blessed I am to have such a wonderful, supportive family, to have enduring friendships, and to have a strong faith."

"I believe I possess the ability to make a contribution to better the lives of others. I believe that I have done so in the past, and I hope to do so in the future, but most importantly, I want to give my family their lives back," Rowland said. "Your Honor, I want my family to know, I want my friends to know, and I want the people of Connecticut to know that I am sorry and I ask for their forgiveness."

Dorsey then imposed a 10-month prison term, which was significantly less than the 15-to-21 month sentencing range negotiated in Rowland's plea bargain agreement the previous December. Dorsey said that Rowland "is not presented as one likely to act unlawfully again….Rehabilitation of the defendant is not seen as essential, as he is not seen as a specific risk of recidivism…"

The 9-year-old transcript paints a starkly different picture of Rowland than a new court document filed this past Monday by prosecutors in U.S. District Court in Hartford. The new document identifies Rowland as "Co-Conspirator 1" in an alleged campaign financing scheme.

Prosecutors said that Rowland secretly received thousands of dollars in illegal campaign payments for helping Lisa Wilson-Foley in her unsuccessful 2012 effort to win the Republican nomination in the 5th Congressional District. She and her husband, Brian Foley, each entered a guilty plea Monday – saying that Rowland's purported "volunteer" campaign help was paid for through a $35,000 sham consulting arrangement with Foley's nursing home business, Apple Rehab.

"I am just a volunteer helping you and 'many other Republican candidates' in case anyone asks," the document quotes Rowland as saying in a Nov. 30, 2011 email to Wilson-Foley. "I want to stay under the radar as much as possible…"

The Foleys' guilty pleas and associated documents unveiled a two-year, behind-the-scenes effort by prosecutors to build a case for a possible criminal indictment of Rowland. Conviction on a second political corruption charge could subject Rowland to prison again – and perhaps a stiffer sentence, because judges can take into account whether an offender got a second chance and made good use of it.

That's what makes the transcript of his March 2005 sentencing hearing worth looking at now.

When Rowland stood before Dorsey in the New Haven federal courthouse that day, he had pleaded guilty three months earlier to a federal conspiracy charge. It arose from his receiving $107,000 in gifts and services – including flights and renovations to his Litchfield lakeside cottage – from businessmen who won hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts and tax breaks from his administration.

Then-Assistant U.S. Attorney Nora Dannehy argued that Dorsey (who died in 2012) should take into account Rowland's failure to disclose to federal officials an asset in the form of a $416,000 personal retirement account. Prosecutors wanted the judge to jail Rowland for up to 37 months, saying that by portraying his financial condition as increasingly dire, Rowland was trying to get leniency from the court.

"If you impose a lenient sentence, a sentence that is outside the guidelines called for, if you show that kind of leniency here, Your Honor, the message, whether intentional or not on your part, is that public trust…in government is not that important…," she said. "[I]f John Rowland is not held accountable, then the people's trust simply isn't that important. … [H]onest government matters. It has to matter. Send that message. Send it loud and clear, because without honesty in government, without a respect for the rule of law, we're all lost."

Rowland has declined comment on his situation since last Monday's guilty pleas by the Foleys, who are to be sentenced on their misdemeanor charges in June. Brian Foley has been cooperating with federal investigators.

Rowland, who has not been charged, has hired a high-profile criminal defense attorney from Washington D.C., Reid H. Weingarten. Also, this past Thursday, Rowland left his marquee role as WTIC-AM's 3-to-6 p.m. talk-show host, saying he needs to "take care of some personal issues." Rowland had used his role as radio host to criticize one of Wilson-Foley's opponents on the air, without telling listeners he was being paid by her husband's business.

Jon Lender is a reporter on The Courant's investigative desk, with a focus on government and politics. Contact him at, 860-241-6524, or c/o The Hartford Courant, 285 Broad St., Hartford, CT 06115 and find him on Twitter@jonlender.

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