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Taint of corruption lingers after trial

Published May 25. 2013 4:00AM

Until he was convicted Tuesday, Robert Braddock, the finance director of Chris Donovan's unsuccessful 2012 congressional campaign, was practically the forgotten man at his own corruption trial. A jury found Mr. Braddock guilty of accepting bribes disguised as campaign contributions to kill a bill calling for taxation of roll-your-own cigarette operations.

The stalled bill was approved after the FBI began arresting people in the scandal.

The major actors in this politically embarrassing courtroom drama were the prominent Connecticut politicians who received the contributions but weren't charged in the conspiracy, Democrat Donovan and Republican House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero.

As the defendant's boss and the major recipient of his fundraising- $27,500 - former House Speaker Donovan played the lead and Rep. Cafero, who was given $5,000 - and returned it only after the arrests - was best supporting actor. While the jury was out, Mr. Donovan even showed up at the courthouse to remind everyone he knew nothing, honest.

Mr. Braddock was the only one of eight men charged in the case who elected to go to trial. Those pleading guilty included Joshua Nassi, Mr. Donovan's campaign manager, and Ray Soucy, the public employee, union official and onetime prison guard who boasts on tape about his ability to fix things at the Capitol.

After being caught in an FBI sting, Mr. Soucy and others agreed to cooperate. FBI wires and hidden cameras were used in meetings with both Mr. Donovan and Rep. Cafero.

Tapes showed Mr. Donovan, after the bill died in the Senate, telling Mr. Soucy, "I took care of you, didn't I?" The same tape later has Mr. Soucy informing Mr. Donovan, "I've got another ten grand to give (campaign manager) Josh tonight for killing the bill."

This direct reference about giving cash to gain influence caused Mr. Donovan to quickly walk away, after protesting, "I didn't kill the bill. I worked on the legislative side. I did what's right."

Then there was the refrigerator, the best supporting appliance.

Testimony included tape of a Soucy-arranged, 25-minute meeting between Rep. Cafero and the tobacco shop owners that ends with Soucy either giving Mr. Cafero an envelope with $5,000 in cash or putting it in the leader's office refrigerator, depending on the accuracy of testimony from Mr. Soucy or Paul Rogers, a tobacco shop owner.

The donations were for Republican political action committees as individual legislators cannot accept donations while the legislature is in session. Donations for Mr. Donovan went to his campaign for Congress.

Rep. Cafero has denied taking the cash, telling interviewers he explained to his guests he couldn't accept contributions in his office. But he later took checks, after he arranged for an aide to meet with Mr. Soucy away from the Capitol. The aide eventually got five checks, each for $1,000 (what a coincidence), and signed by so-called straw contributors to hide the identity of the real donors, the tobacco shop owners. One of the straw contributors was Mr. Soucy's mom.

After Mr. Braddock's arrest, the FBI informed Mr. Cafero that the money he accepted was possibly part of funds the agency had given the alleged conspirators to "spread around" during its sting operation. It was only then that Rep. Cafero decided to return the money, even though the FBI asked him to keep it for a while.

Rep. Cafero told CT News Junkie he didn't know the checks were from the roll- your-own shops because he didn't look at them before they were deposited.

"Dummy me," said Rep. Cafero, "I never even connected the two. I thought it was a donation from the Department of Corrections," a reference to Mr. Soucy's association with the prison guards' union. He didn't say why he didn't suspect the 25-minute discussion with the tobacco people might have had something to do with the contribution. Dummy him, indeed.

While neither Mr. Donovan nor Mr. Cafero's part in all of this resulted in either of them being charged with a crime, their close association with this slimy affair certainly makes them bipartisan poster boys for campaign finance reform and should have an impact on their future political pursuits - if there are any.

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