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New Haven - The campaign manager for former state House Speaker Christopher Donovan was sentenced Thursday to two years and four months in prison after he made an emotional apology for his role in a scheme involving illegal contributions to Donovan's failed congressional campaign last year.
Joshua Nassi of Fairfield expressed remorse in U.S. District Court in New Haven, where he also was fined $6,000. He pleaded guilty in April to conspiracy to make false statements to the Federal Election Commission.
"Please hear this. I am sorry that I have failed you," the 35-year-old Nassi said, his voice shaking as he took deep breaths while speaking for several minutes. "I know the pain I have caused and will never act that way again."
Prosecutors say Nassi and seven others who were convicted were involved in a scheme that funneled nearly $28,000 to Donovan's campaign through straw donors in an effort to get Donovan to kill proposed legislation to raise taxes on roll-your-own cigarette shops.
Donovan was not charged and has denied knowing about the scheme.
Nassi, who reports to prison on Oct. 30, and his attorney said his conduct was at odds with a life dedicated to advancing progressive causes, including campaign finance reform. Nassi was involved in the high profile congressional race that required raising about $3 million, said his attorney, William Bloss.
"He was scared," Bloss said. "He was frankly in over his head. Mr. Nassi was faced with having his first real big race be a failure."
But prosecutor Christopher Mattei challenged that argument, saying Nassi was one of the most effective political operatives in Hartford. Regardless of the stakes, he said officials must maintain integrity.
"Seeking to gain an edge in a high-pressure congressional campaign, this defendant traded promises of legislative action in exchange for illegal campaign contributions," said acting U.S. Attorney Deirdre Daly. "His criminal behavior undermines the principles of transparency and fairness that are the bedrock of our electoral and political processes."
Nassi, who spoke after his mother, brother and fiance made emotional pleas on his behalf, said he spent his career working on causes he believed in to improve society.
"Because of this history, it was unimaginable to me I would be involved in something like this," Nassi said, adding later, "I had a duty to stop all of this as soon as it was brought to my attention and I failed."
Judge Janet Bond Arterton said the scheme violated the public trust in government, calling it "this ludicrously crass effort to corrupt," and noted it was the latest in a series of corruption cases in the past decade in Connecticut that have prompted the label "Corrupticut."
"Mr. Nassi became the key to this scheme even though he didn't originate it," Arterton said. "He was not only the one who should but should have pulled the plug."
Arterton said Nassi was not in over his head to recognize what was happening and had a duty to "maintain your moral compass."
"There is no doubt that Mr. Nassi has been a hard working person focused on social justice and making a difference," Arterton said.
She called Nassi's remorse "palpable" and said she hopes he talks to classes of students about the experience.