Danbury garbage executive James Galante turned himself in to the state police Friday morning to face charges of making nearly $40,000 in illegal campaign contributions, as a third political figure acknowledged being the recipient of $8,000 in questionable money.
Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, a Republican, said Friday that one of his political action committees received money from Galante in 2003 that was disguised through third-party, or ``straw'' donors. Sources familiar with the campaign finance case said this week that Boughton got the money in October 2003.
Earlier in the week, the same sources said that Republican state Sens. Louis DeLuca of Woodbury and David Cappiello of Danbury each got $15,000 from Galante in 2002 under similar circumstances.
No charges are contemplated against the three political figures. Like Boughton, both senators acknowledged receiving money, but said they were not aware the contributions had been ``bundled'' by Galante, as is alleged.
In cases of bundled donations, individual contributors typically exceed the legal $1,000 contribution limit by passing money through third parties. Galante is accused of contributing the money in $1,000 increments through employees of his various trash businesses, their family members or their friends.
Galante, 54, of New Fairfield, turned himself in at the state police barracks in Bethany at 9:30 a.m. Friday. State police said he was charged with three counts of making illegal contributions to a political committee and three counts of corrupt practices. He was released on $50,000 bond and is scheduled to be arraigned in state court in Hartford on Oct. 24.
Boughton said Friday that his campaign staff had no way of knowing that third-party donors were acting as conduits for Galante contributions.
"We've accepted thousands of donations from thousands of contributors and we assume that the name on the check is the person that donated the money,'' Boughton said. ``In fact, we send a personal thank-you letter to each person. I was absolutely unaware that there was anything wrong with any donations.''
As Danbury's mayor, Boughton has worked closely with Galante, whose network of trash-related businesses is a major presence in the city. In particular, the Boughton administration worked with Galante on issues related to the rehabilitation of a city ice rink where Galante's minor league professional hockey team, the Danbury Trashers, played. Boughton dismissed local critics who said the city bent rules to rush approval of an occupancy permit for the rink. Boughton also said he is not close to Galante socially.
"I'm sure he has donated or bought a ticket to some campaign event of mine in the past,'' Boughton said. ``But he's donated to lots of politicians all over the state, from Joe Lieberman's presidential campaign to small-town municipal elections.''
Cappiello, who is running for U.S. Congress in the 5th District, said Thursday that he accepted checks personally from a Galante associate and acknowledged giving bottles of wine to Galante and the associate in appreciation. He said he was not aware the checks were illegal at the time, but he reported them to authorities after becoming concerned upon reading a Courant story in June about Galante's contributions to DeLuca.
Democrats and Republicans battled bitterly Friday over the potential political fallout for Cappiello, a Danbury Republican who is challenging U.S. Rep. Christopher Murphy, D-5th District.
The Democrats charged that the issue would clearly hurt Cappiello politically, while Republicans downplayed the matter and said it would be forgotten when voters cast their ballots in November 2008 -- 13 months away. The state Democratic chairwoman, Nancy DiNardo, demanded Friday that Cappiello return the ``tainted campaign cash immediately,'' but called a reporter less than an hour later to say she had just learned that the political action committee had already donated all of the money to charity.
Cappiello said in a telephone interview that the PAC donated the money over the past month and a half, including $2,500 to St. Jude hospital in Tennessee and $2,500 to actor Paul Newman's Hole In The Wall Gang Camp, a well-known charity in Ashford.
``Once the red flag went up, I did what I thought was the right thing,'' Cappiello said. ``I can't see into the future [regarding the congressional race]. All I know is I will be able to run on my record in Hartford.''
Cappiello said he could not have known in advance about Galante's actions. In the same way, Cappiello said, Murphy could not have known about one of his contributors, Jeffrey Bourke, who pleaded guilty last week to embezzling nearly $2 million from his employer, Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield.
A Murphy spokeswoman declined to comment on Galante's contributions to Cappiello. But longtime Democratic political strategist Roy Occhiogrosso said the Galante situation could only hurt Cappiello in a tough race against an incumbent.
``He already is taking on a difficult task, and this will not make it any easier,'' said Occhiogrosso, who is not working for Murphy. ``If most people in the district don't know you, and the only thing they read about you is you're attached to Galante and Lou DeLuca, it's not good for you. If this were a one-day story and it went away, it probably wouldn't be that bad. This is not a one-day story, and it's not going away. ... There's never a good time for this to happen if you're a candidate. Period.''
On the other end of the political spectrum, Republican State Chairman Christopher Healy said he believes the Galante story will fade away, adding that Murphy has been involved in questionable matters, too.
`` Chris Murphy's MoveOn.org blood money is a lot worse than what has come out about Sen. Cappiello,'' said Healy. He was referring to television commercials last year by the liberal organization against then-Congresswoman Nancy Johnson, portraying her as having been caught ``red-handed'' for one of her votes in Congress. One of the ads connected Johnson to convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff, though there was no connection. Murphy defeated Johnson in the campaign.
Healy added that he is not worried about any political fallout.
``I'm very confident this will all be forgotten very quickly,'' Healy said. ``This is an inside baseball story that doesn't get to first base.''
DeLuca said through his lawyer that he did not knowingly accept illegal contributions and knows of no one who is accusing him of doing so.
The filing of campaign finance charges should have a minimal legal impact on Galante, who already faces substantial prison time if convicted of an array of federal racketeering, tax and other offenses.
Galante is accused in a federal indictment, returned in June 2005, of using New York mob muscle to carve up the western Connecticut trash business and inflate prices. He denies the charges and is scheduled to be tried in a year.
Galante's lawyer, Hugh Keefe, called the campaign finance charges, brought by state prosecutors, relatively minor.
``I'm not sure what the motive of the prosecutors is and was in bringing it in view of the pending federal case,'' Keefe said.
DeLuca also faces potential political problems as a result of the Galante contributions. His seat in the Senate already is in jeopardy following the disclosure that he asked Galante to "pay a visit" to a man he said was abusing his granddaughter. Additionally, DeLuca's campaigns have benefited from thousands of dollars in Galante contributions.
The threatened visit never took place, but DeLuca was convicted in June of conspiracy to commit threatening. He is scheduled to appear Monday before a special legislative committee that will recommend to the full Senate whether he should be expelled from the state legislature or otherwise sanctioned.
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