Why We’re Still Writing About Rowland

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Via Flickr. Permission previously granted by Carmen Anthony's.

Via Flickr. Permission previously granted by Carmen Anthony’s.

Kevin Rennie’s column has attracted wide readership this weekend, and with that has come the usual chorus of commenters complaining that any attention at all is being paid to John Rowland’s misdeeds. The feds and the press have it in for this guy — so goes the argument — and have flyspecked him with an obsessive precision that would catch just about any politician failing to dot i’s and cross t’s.

So what’s this case about? The case dates back to the primary season of the 2012 congressional election in the fifth district. (Ages ago, Rowland served in congress on behalf of an earlier version of this district.) Rowland actively supported Republican nomination-seeker Lisa Wilson-Foley, and it became clear that he was doing behind the scenes work for her. He told his employer, WTIC-AM, that he was an unpaid volunteer. We have since learned that Wilson-Foley’s husband had paid Rowland $30,000 for some hard-to-pin-down services connected to his nursing home empire. The question became: did the Foleys find another way to pay Rowland for campaign work? If so, that’s a conspiracy to avoid federal campaign laws. Why have such a conspiracy? Maybe to avoid a public admission that a famous convicted felon is your campaign advisor. Maybe because WTIC wouldn’t like having a radio host who was on one campaign’s payroll.  Then another Republican candidate. Mark Greenberg, came forward to say that Rowland had proposed the exact same scheme to him in the previous election cycle. He would do campaign work for Greenberg, and Greenberg would pay him a different way, from the accounts of an animal shelter Greenberg runs. (Greenberg demurred.) And then there was the experience of a third Republican candidate, Andrew Roraback, who was invited onto Rowland’s show and then torn apart by the host right around the time the host was getting money from the husband of Roraback’s opponent. This is from something I wrote at the time:

When you book a radio guest, you usually get his cellphone number. Rowland in ensuing weeks took to flogging Roraback for his stance on the death penalty and then — wait for it — gave out Roraback’s cellphone number on the air so that especially angry people could call him.

In recent days, it has dawned on Roraback that he was attacked simultaneously by Wilson-Foley and Rowland in pretty much identical ways while Rowland was being paid by Wilson-Foley’s husband.

“There was no disclosure,” he told me. “Had I known that the governor was in the employ of my opponent’s husband, I might have been better prepared for what was in the offing.”

Roraback won the nomination anyway. It’s worth noting that Roraback is a Republican, that Greenberg is a Republican, and that the person who filed the complaint that got this case rolling, Mike Clark, is also a Republican. Those who insist on seeing John Rowland’s problems as caused by a cabal of leftists from the press, the Democratic party and the Justice Department should understand that there would be no case against him without Republicans.

C’mon! He’s old news! Actually, Rowland has shown an amazing capacity to keep making news, years after he resigned with an impeachment committee yapping at his heels. 2014 is young, and yet another Rowland saga has made news. The state is struggling now to settle the case occasioned by Rowland’s use of layoffs to punish unions. It’s a complicated case, but the short version is that, long before Chris Christie’s office blocked off bridge lanes, Rowland took a similar approach to laying people off. The Second Circuit decision against the state and against Rowland and his budget chief as individual defendants was resounding. This case has already cost you and me, the taxpayers, millions to defend. To settle? Pick a big number. Now pick something even bigger.  We probably won’t hear the number during this calendar year, but whenever it comes, it will be a lot. You and I will have to pay it, all because of his idiotic bullying.

 Going after Rowland was always just politics.  Actually, in the bad old days, it was kind of the opposite. In 2003, the Democrats who controlled the legislature were very slow to move against Rowland and were more or less dragged into acting by the press and the federal investigation. There were a lot of reasons for this. Leadership was a little bit co-opted and a little bit fearful of him. The Bantam Lake story erupted at the end of November. On December 2, Rowland gave the press conference at which he blatantly lied about who paid for his cottage improvement. Leadership didn’t say much and didn’t do much for weeks and weeks.  At the end of January 2004, they finally raised the House Select Committee. From there, the story took a U-Turn.  The Select Committee was effective, methodical and bipartisan in the best sense. The Republicans on the committee appeared to take the charges as seriously as the Democrats. Republican legislators who might have started off skeptical — Bill Hamzy comes to mind — gradually came to see the scope of Rowland’s malfeasance. Those of us who covered the hearings and tried to get a nose count were pretty sure the committee vote to impeach was going to be unanimous, barring some fabulously persuasive testimony by Rowland or his wife, which, of course, never happened.

What do you mean it never happened? Rowland resigned rather than testify under oath. He was subpoenaed on May 18, 2004. By June 18, his motion to quash the subpoena had been fast-tracked all the way to the state Supreme Court, which turned him down.  Three days later, he resigned. The Committee never finished collecting all of its evidence because the question was moot. During the time of its work, 13 other witnesses, Rowland administration officials and contractors, took the fifth.

So they never found anything against the poor guy! Actually, they found quite a lot, all of it collected in the form of sworn testimony. The Committee was especially interested in Rowland’s relationship with Robert Matthews, a real estate guy who did a lot of business with the state. Matthews found a way to pass money to Rowland, first by paying a vastly inflated rent ($1,750 instead of $500-$600!) on Rowland’s D.C. condo on behalf of Matthews’ niece and then by buying the condo at an inflated price ($68,500 instead of $40,000) through a sock puppet. (Readers with a knack for pattern recognition may notice a “let’s find another way to pay me” theme developing. It actually goes back even deeper in time — to the charges that Rowland lobbied illegally right after leaving Congress.) They also documented the wacky ritual of state employees who owed their jobs to Rowland just giving him stuff. They also took lots of testimony about the same stuff the Feds were investigating.

The Feds? They never got much on him, right? He was sent to prison for kitchen cabinets and a jacuzzi! OK, this is the Big Lie. I hear it all the time. The other hosts on WTIC-AM, before Rowland ever got there, used to say it a lot. Just so we’re clear, I will post (down at the bottom of this)  the entirety of the stipulation which Rowland signed at the time of sentencing. Rowland admitted to being part of a criminal conspiracy to falsely award two huge state contracts — to build a juvenile prison and an airport parking garage –to the contractors who had been taking care of him. In addition to being just, you know, dishonest and wrong, this had other, rippling consequences. First, honest businessmen could not compete for state work, because the whole process was wired. Second, the prison was so improperly built that Rowland’s successor, Gov Rell, called it unusable and tried to close it. That’s government waste. Conservatives theoretically oppose waste and favor a fair business climate, which is why I’m always surprised when they make excuses for Rowland.

 Isn’t this just sour grapes?  Because Rowland replaced you at WTIC!  No. First of all, that’s not what sour grapes means, but its one of those expressions that people now use every which-way. Sour grapes refers to the acts of pretending you never wanted (and devaluing) something when you figure out you can’t have it. Anyway, I was let go by WTIC  at the end of 2008. Rowland was hired in mid-September 2010. I wasn’t fired so they could give my time slot to Rowland. I was laid off because CBS Radio wanted to save money by having no afternoon drive host, an experiment they tried for almost two years. I’ve been one of the journalists criticizing Rowland since the early 1990s. It’s not weird that I’m still doing it. What’s weird is that WTIC hired him to do a talk show in which he makes a habit of criticizing current elected officials, as if he had compiled some kind of stellar record. This includes excoriating projects that his administration started, especially the Hartford-New Britain busway which had its origins in the Rowland administration in 1999.

Move on! I’d love to It’s been a long haul, from the overdrafts of 1992 to the forever-suppressed records of the 911 calls in 1994 to amazing Rowland administration stories like that of Anne Rapkin, a whistleblower illegally fired in 2001 whose settlement with the state included a gag order prohibiting her to say what she knew about corruption in her department. (In other words, your tax dollars were used to pay a lot of money to an honest person so that she wouldn’t share information about Rowland administration corruption with the public. Chew on that.) And the early ethics fines. And the even earlier ethics fines.  Historically, it has been a mistake not to take seriously allegations about him. In 2002, the Curry campaign had essentially figured out what was going on. They had a press conference laying out what would come to be the scandal culminating with Rowland’s imprisonment. They had charts to show the connections. And — I think it’s fair to say — the press, including me, didn’t really pursue it (until later). The Courant endorsed Rowland that year, as it had in 1998. There were six weeks left in the campaign. There just wasn’t time to develop the story, and we have a collective bias against “October surprises,” disruptive thunderbolts in the late stages of a race. Of course, it turned out to be even worse than anybody could have suspected.

And here, as promised, is the stipulation he signed at the time of sentencing (after even then almost derailing his deal by deceiving the feds about his assets):

STIPULATION OF OFFENSE CONDUCT
The defendant John G. Rowland and the Government stipulate and agree to the following
offense conduct that gives rise to the defendant’s agreement to plead guilty to the information:
1. John G. Rowland was the Governor of the State of Connecticut from approximately
January 1995 through June 2004.
2. As Governor of the State of Connecticut, John G. Rowland was an elected official
who held a high-level decision-making and sensitive position.
3. From approximately October 1997 and continuing through approximately October
2003, in the District of Connecticut and elsewhere, defendant JOHN G. ROWLAND, together
with Peter N. Ellef; William A. Tomasso, Tomasso Brothers, Inc. and Tunxis Management Co.
(hereinafter collectively referred to as “Tomasso and related entities”); Lawrence Alibozek and
other persons, known and unknown to the United States Attorney’s Office, did unlawfully and
knowingly combine, conspire, confederate and agree with each other to commit certain offenses
against the United States as follows:
(a) devise and participate in a scheme and artifice to deprive the State of Connecticut and
its citizens of the intangible right to the honest services of its Governor, the defendant JOHN G.
ROWLAND, and of public officials Peter N. Ellef, Lawrence Alibozek and others, and to have
those services performed free from deceit, favoritism, bias, conflict of interest and self
enrichment, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1341, 1346;
(b) willfully and knowingly defraud the United States for the purpose of impeding,
impairing, obstructing and defeating the lawful Government functions of the Internal Revenue
Service of the Treasury Department in the ascertainment, computation, assessment and collection
of the revenue, that is, income taxes, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371.
4. Between approximately January 1998 and December 2001, defendant John G.
Rowland accepted things of value or gratuities for, because of and in connection with the
business of the State of Connecticut. As described below, defendant John G. Rowland received
more than one gratuity for because of and in connection with the business of the State of
Connecticut:
(a) Between in or about February 1998 and February 2002, defendant JOHN G.
ROWLAND vacationed alone with his family at no charge approximately three times at
the Vermont home of Tomasso and related entities.
(b) In approximately May 1998, Tomasso and related entities performed construction
work at no charge at the Bantam Lake cottage of defendant JOHN G. ROWLAND.
(c) On approximately November 22, 1998, defendant JOHN G. ROWLAND learned that
Peter N. Ellef, Lawrence Alibozek and other state officials traveled to Ohio with
Tomasso and related entities to view models for the Connecticut Juvenile Training
School (“CJTS”). Despite having learned that Tomasso and related entities had
inappropriately received confidential and inside information about the CJTS project,
defendant JOHN G. ROWLAND took no corrective action.
(d) On approximately December 15, 1998, defendant JOHN G. ROWLAND received a
memorandum outlining that Tomasso and related entities were performing renovation
work at Long Lane School (“LLS”) in Middletown, Connecticut. In approximately
January 1999, defendant JOHN G. ROWLAND gave his consent as Governor of
Connecticut for DPW to enter, without competitive bidding, into a contract in excess of
$250,000 with Tunxis Management Co. to renovate LLS, under which contract DPW
paid Tunxis Management Co. approximately $2.1 million.
(e) In approximately March 1999, defendant JOHN G. ROWLAND and with his wife
vacationed alone at the Florida home of Tomasso and related entities and knowingly paid
only a nominal amount for the seven-day stay.
(f) In approximately May 1999, Peter N. Ellef and Lawrence Alibozek, together with
Tomasso and related entities, arranged and paid for the installation of a heating system at
the Bantam Lake cottage.
(g) In approximately February 2000, defendant JOHN G. ROWLAND directed the
commissioner of DOT to sign a lease agreement concerning the construction and
operation of the Bradley Airport parking garage, which agreement was to benefit
Tomasso and related entities.
(h) Between approximately January 1998 and December 2000, defendant JOHN G.
ROWLAND approved bond agendas for, voted affirmatively as a member of the bond
commission for, and subsequently allocated monies to projects which benefitted the
financial interests of Tomasso and related entities.
(i) Between approximately April 1999 and November 2000, defendant JOHN G.
ROWLAND took personal trips to Las Vegas and Philadelphia at no charge on private
chartered planes provided by Entity A.
(j) Between approximately August 2001 and February 2002, a representative of Entity A
met with and requested that defendant JOHN G. ROWLAND advocate a change in the
State of Connecticut’s tax legislation which benefitted Entity A.
(k) In approximately October 2001, Peter N. Ellef directed DRS to include a tax
exemption which benefitted Entity A in DRS’s 2002 legislative proposals.
(l) In approximately January 2002, defendant JOHN G. ROWLAND approved as part of
the Governor’s Budget a retroactive tax exemption which benefitted only Entity A.
5. The above things of value total $107,042.69, which consists of $15,549.00 from
Tomasso and related entities and $91,493.69 from Entity A, all of which represents unreported
income for the tax years 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2001. As a result, defendant JOHN G.
ROWLAND has a tax plus interest due and owing of $35,459.25.
The written stipulation above is incorporated into the preceding plea agreement. It is
understood, however, that the defendant and the Government reserve their right to present
additional relevant offense conduct to the attention of the Court in connection with sentencing.

 

 

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