HARTFORD — A day after former Gov. John G. Rowland was named in federal court as an alleged co-conspirator in a campaign-financing scheme, he returned to the microphone Tuesday afternoon for his WTIC-AM talk show — but he was mum on the topic that probably made more listeners tune in than usual.
Rowland started his three-hour program at 3:07 p.m. with this 11-second comment: “John G. Rowland here with you — and before I get the program going, I just want to make a quick statement: I am not going to be discussing the recent news and legal developments. I am sure that you all understand. And I want to respect the process.”
He provided no specifics or context for listeners who might have been unfamiliar with the court proceeding Monday — which dramatically lifted the curtain on federal investigators’ efforts to build a case for Rowland’s possible indictment by a grand jury.
Instead, Rowland switched immediately to a discussion of some of his more typical subjects, ranging from the ways in which Obamacare is “ruining lives” to the success of UConn Huskiesbasketball.
Rowland has not responded to Courant messages, left on the phone and email, seeking his comment on Monday’s developments in court.
Rowland’s show had been pre-empted by Red Sox baseball late Monday afternoon — when businessman Brian Foley and his wife, former congressional candidate Lisa Wilson-Foley, were admitting at federal court in Hartford that they used a sham consulting contract with Rowland to pay him for secret political assistance to Wilson-Foley’s 2012 campaign.
Both Foleys pleaded guilty to conspiring with Rowland and others to violate campaign finance law by concealing $35,000 that Brian Foley paid to the former governor from October 2011 to March 2012 through a law office associated with his chain of nursing homes, Apple Rehab.
They face a maximum prison term of one year and a fine of up to $100,000 when they are sentenced in June. Brian Foley has agreed to cooperate in the investigation of Rowland, and said in court Monday: “I knowingly and intentionally conspired with co-conspirator one, who wasJohn Rowland.”
“Co-Conspirator 1” is what federal prosecutors called Rowland in a document introduced in court Monday. Their continuing probe started two years ago when investigators began questioning witnesses as to whether the $35,000 that Foley’s company paid Rowland was instead unreported compensation from the campaign of his wife. She was campaigning at the time — unsuccessfully, as it turned out — for the Republican nomination in the 5th District.
Rowland resigned as governor in mid-2004 and later spent 10 months in federal prison after pleading guilty to corruption.
As a practical matter, Rowland’s 2004 conviction made him unemployable as a political consultant. According to a prosecution document released Monday in the Foleys’ case, Rowland expressed concern in an email that there might be bad press coverage if his paid consulting relationship became public knowledge during the 2012 campaign.
“I want to stay under the radar as much as possible and get the job done … want to avoid a bad article…,” Rowland wrote to Wilson-Foley in an email, according to the prosecution document. “I am just a volunteer helping you and ‘many other Republican candidates’ in case anyone asks.”
When other candidates raised questions about the arrangement in 2012, Brian Foley said that Rowland was being paid to do consulting work for Apple Rehab.
Rowland had previously offered a similar consulting arrangement to Mark Greenberg, a competing Republican candidate, Greenberg has told federal investigators. The prosecution document said that Rowland told the Foleys that he had turned down an offer to work for Greenberg — but that, in truth, Greenberg never offered Rowland a job.
Malloy Jabs WTIC
Meanwhile, controversy over Rowland and the Foleys grew Tuesday as Gov. Dannel P. Malloy told reporters: “I think any reasonable [radio] outlet would remove him at this point.”
Malloy was asked by reporters at a Hartford press conference if Rowland should continue on the air after what came out in Monday’s court proceeding — which the Republican ex-governor did not attend.
Malloy answered, “No.”
He expanded on that, saying: “It is disappointing. At the time that [Rowland] engaged in this activity he was not serving in public office, but he had the interesting position of trying to impact and influence political discourse on an afternoon radio show. That somebody would violate that trust, as well, is disturbing.”
Malloy was referring to Rowland’s use of his radio show to criticize one of Wilson-Foley’s opponents in the 2012 congressional race for the GOP’s 5th District nomination, eventual nominee Andrew Roraback, who lost the election to Democrat Elizabeth Esty. Rowland did not tell his listeners that he was being paid by Wilson-Foley’s husband at the time that he criticized Roraback.
“I think the reality is that we now know enough” to say that Rowland should be taken off the air, said Malloy, a Democrat. “Two people have pled guilty to this charge and have identified the party that they were engaged … with” — that is, Rowland.
Malloy made his comments at a press conference about consumer issues involving electric prices at the South End Wellness Senior Center on Maple Avenue. In the minutes leading up to Rowland’s show Tuesday afternoon, WTIC carried news from the press conference about the consumer issues, but did not report Malloy’s statement that Rowland should be taken off the air.
WTIC’s program manager, Jenneen Lee, said Tuesday that Rowland will stay as host for the immediate future.
“We have spoken with Mr. Rowland and his representatives and are monitoring the situation closely and in the meantime he will continue to host his program. I will decline to comment further,” Lee said in an email Tuesday, responding to Courant questions about whether Monday’s court proceedings might affect Rowland’s on-air status.
By Jon Lender and Ed H. Mahony, Hartford Courant
Courant staff writer Brian Dowling contributed to this story.