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Judgment Day: Prosecutors Allege New Lapses, Seek Longer Sentence For Ex-Gov. Rowland
On the eve of John G. Rowland's scheduled sentencing, federal prosecutors Thursday made unexpected new allegations that the former governor concealed more than $416,000 in assets in hopes of winning a lighter jail term, and that he took on ethically questionable consulting contracts after being forced from office last year.
In a rare move, authorities said they want to scrap the agreement under which Rowland pleaded guilty to a corruption charge in December and seek a term of 30 to 37 months in prison--nearly double the 15 to 21 months in the plea deal--at his sentencing set for today.
Rowland's lawyer accused the prosecutors of exaggerating his misdeeds in an effort to renege on the plea deal.
``The Government will attempt to paint John Rowland as a Svengali who is responsible for everything from the Stamp Act to Dutch Elm Disease and the Chicago Fire,'' Rowland lawyer William Dow III wrote in a legal document filed in federal court Thursday. ``It will claim that he failed to disclose a retirement account in the information provided to the probation office. That is incorrect.''
The series of contradictory and sometimes startling claims are made in legal memorandums Dow and the U.S. attorney's office filed in court Thursday, 24 hours before Rowland was scheduled to be sentenced. He pleaded guilty on Dec. 23 to taking $107,000 in gifts and services from businessmen who won hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts and tax breaks from his administration.
While prosecutors want Rowland sentenced to more time in prison, Dow suggested lowering the sentence to a range that would allow Rowland to serve part of it under home confinement.
Dow, in his memo, portrays Rowland as a man whose reputation and career have been ruined by exaggerated news accounts of corruption in his administration. While insisting that Rowland accepts responsibility for his actions, Dow said his client's biggest offense was a hands-off management style that allowed his onetime co-chief of staff, Peter N. Ellef, to orchestrate a series of corrupt deals that eventually crushed the administration.
Dow's memo also says -- incorrectly -- that Rowland didn't even know Ellef when he made him his co-chief of staff in September 1997. In fact, Rowland had named Ellef economic development commissioner in August 1995 and appointed him chairman of the state's trash authority about 18 months later. Dow declined to comment on the memo Thursday.
Ellef, his son, and New Britain businessman William Tomasso have been indicted on charges they ran a ``criminal enterprise'' out of the governor's office. Rowland admitted to taking gifts and favors from Tomasso and others who did business with the state.
In stark contrast to Dow's portrayal of a crushed and humiliated Rowland, the prosecution memo accuses him of a ``continued disregard for the law and rules which other citizens are expected to follow [that] underscores his arrogance, his continued sense of entitlement and his lack of sincere remorse for the conduct that put him in the position he is in today.''
It suggests that the serial ethical lapses that characterized his 2 1/2 terms continued after he escaped impeachment last spring and resigned effective July 1, 2004. The prosecutors claim that:
One week after resigning his office, Rowland began collecting $5,000 a month plus expenses from the Klewin Building Co. of Norwich for providing ``business development services to advance Klewin's interest in obtaining construction contracts.''
While he was in office, Rowland's administration awarded Klewin more than $50 million in state contracts.
Rowland signed a consulting contract with Klewin even though a lawyer for the state Ethics Commission said his employment by a major state contractor was legally suspect, the prosecutors said. When a commission attorney pointedly asked whether Rowland wanted the question researched, Rowland said no.
While the legality of his representing Klewin is still unresolved, ``the evidence does establish that Rowland again chose a path of willful blindness,'' federal prosecutors wrote in their sentencing memo. ``He consciously avoided seeking an advisory opinion and chose to act in his own self-interest.''
While working for Klewin, federal prosecutors say Rowland ``met with a high-level state official'' in an effort to settle a contract dispute Klewin had with a state agency, the prosecution memo says.
Later Thursday, University of Connecticut officials confirmed Rowland met UConn Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Lorraine Aronson, Rowland's former budget chief, for breakfast at a West Hartford diner last November. Rowland started with social chat, then "raised the prospect of a settlement" of a dispute over work Klewin did at UConn's Avery Point campus, the UConn statement said. "Ms. Aronson informed him that all construction claims are resolved through a process," the statement said. Rowland never told her he was working for Klewin. Aronson told UConn authorities of the meeting and told the story again Tuesday after being contacted by the U.S. attorney's office.
In September 2004, Rowland began receiving $10,000 a month plus expenses as a consultant to the National Science Center Foundation. The foundation leases software to Connecticut schools. Between July 1, 1999, and June 30, 2004 -- while Rowland was governor -- the foundation was paid $753,000 by the state Department of Education.
The foundation is chaired by Harry Gray, the former UTC chairman who is also the biggest contributor to the nonprofit agency that maintains the state-owned governor's residence in Hartford. UTC was one of the Connecticut corporations that paid Rowland consulting fees between his defeat in the 1990 gubernatorial election and his 1994 gubernatorial victory.
According to the prosecution memo, Rowland told the probation officer preparing his pre-sentence report that the foundation contract expired last month, leaving him with about $5,000 in monthly income. However, the memo said, the foundation reported that the contract is still in effect on a month-to-month basis, making his monthly income about $15,000.
Questions about Rowland's alleged attempts to conceal income and assets after leaving office form the bulk of the government's argument that his prison sentence should be lengthened.
Under the plea bargain agreement that resulted in Rowland's guilty plea on Dec. 23, prosecutors say he had an obligation to make ``full, complete and truthful'' disclosures to the federal probation office about a variety of matters, in particular his financial condition. What's more, they said he agreed not to engage in any conduct that could be construed as ``obstructing or impeding the administration of justice.''
Prosecutors claim that by misleading federal officials about his financial worth, Rowland failed to comply with both conditions. As a result, they said they will argue today to Senior U.S. District Judge Peter C. Dorsey that the plea agreement should be set aside and Rowland should be sentenced to an increased period of imprisonment.
On his financial disclosure forms requested by the probation office, Rowland listed only a checking account containing $10,000 and a brokerage account with a fair market value of less than $300. In fact, the prosecutors said, Rowland also has a retirement account with a current value of $416,525.23.
According to the prosecution memo, Dow only learned of the discrepancy Wednesday. In his own memo, Dow argued that the existence of the account had been reported in the media and that it is listed in other documents provided to the probation office.
``Failure to fill out forms in this instance does not constitute a calculated attempt to deceive,'' he wrote.
The prosecution memo scoffed at Dow's defense. It was unlikely Rowland would forget about his largest personal asset, it said, and the other document to which Dow referred was an 11-year-old divorce decree.
Rowland also failed to disclose the promise of an unidentified ``wealthy friend'' to provide each of Rowland's two children $5,000 a year in college tuition, the prosecutors said. When asked on a probation form whether he had any anticipated assets, Rowland replied ``none unfortunately.''
Federal prosecutors said in their memo that the probation office had reached a number of possibly erroneous conclusions based on the omissions in Rowland's financial disclosures. And those omissions, the prosecutors wrote, may have caused the probation office to lean toward leniency in recommending a sentence for Rowland.
Among other things, the probation office concluded that ``major financial problems'' were a motivator for Rowland's crime; that he would be unable to pay a criminal fine; and that his older child was worried about her and her brother's ability to go to college.
Prosecutors were critical of the probation office report. They said that probation officials ``rather shockingly'' wrote in their report that the Rowlands' present house in West Hartford, rented at a reduced rate from a Republican pollster, ``is nice by most standards but is clearly below the standard to which the family has become accustomed.'' The house had been on the market for $369,000 before pollster Frank Luntz offered it to Rowland.
If probation officials wanted to note that Rowland is no longer living in the taxpayer-funded Executive Residence, the prosecutors said they ``should also note that this change in circumstance is due exclusively to the defendant's numerous ethical breaches and criminal conduct.''
Meanwhile, Gov. M. Jodi Rell, who succeeded Rowland on July 1 after serving as his lieutenant governor for 9 1/2 years, said Thursday that she believes the ex-governor should be sentenced to time in jail, although she would not say how much because that is up to Dorsey.
``I think anytime there is a breach of public trust, clearly to the allegations and the things he has pleaded guilty to, certainly jail time is appropriate,'' Rell said. Rell told reporters at the Capitol she hopes his sentence will deter others from corrupt conduct.
Dow submitted to Dorsey excerpts from some of the more than 90 letters sent to Dorsey from supporters. Some were from 9/11 widows who remembered Rowland's compassion when dealing with Connecticut victims.
Others cited his efforts to help cities, the arts and other causes. Ex-wife Deborah Rowland wrote that "deep down inside he is a man with a big heart.''
But Hugh Keefe, Ellef's attorney, said he was stunned that Rowland would suddenly blame his client for all his troubles.
"He sounds like a drug kingpin who is squirming to get out and he's blaming a bunch of his subordinates for everything,'' Keefe said. ``I don't know how he could think a former U.S. attorney like Dorsey is going to buy that the governor knew nothing and it was all this other guy's fault.''
Keefe said Rowland's failure to disclose the $400,000-plus retirement asset may not have been deliberate, but its omission doesn't look good.
"You had to feel a lot better if you're Rowland yesterday than today,'' Keefe said.