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Court overturns former senator’s campaign fraud convictions

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HARTFORD  — The Connecticut Supreme Court on Friday overturned the campaign fraud convictions of former Bridgeport state Sen. Ernest Newton II and ordered a new trial for the outspoken Democrat, who served prison time a decade ago in a bribery case that prompted him to give up his Senate seat.

The court said in a 5-0 decision that the trial court judge improperly instructed the jury that it was required to find that Newton had general intent, instead of specific intent, to violate campaign finance laws.

Newton, now a Bridgeport city councilor, has denied allegations that he submitted false documentation to obtain more than $80,000 in state public campaign funds for his failed 2012 bid to regain his state Senate seat.

Prosecutors said that when Newton discovered he was $500 short of the $15,000 he needed in private contributions to quality for the public funds, he had five campaign workers sign forms erroneously reporting they each contributed $100.

Newton was convicted of three fraud counts in 2015 and sentenced to six months in prison, but he was allowed to remain free during his appeal.

“I’m just grateful, man,” Newton told the Connecticut Post on Friday. “I’ve been through a lot. Almost five years I’ve been going through this.”

He also told The Hartford Courant, “I’m a very spiritual person, and I never lost my faith.”

Officials with the Chief State’s Attorney’s Office said they were reviewing the ruling and will decide later on whether to retry Newton.

Justice Maria Araujo Kahn wrote in the ruling that it is “reasonably possible” that the jury was misled by the judge’s instructions.

“The instruction that the trial court gave . only requires knowledge of the falsity of the payment and not knowledge that the defendant’s own conduct was unlawful — that is to say, with a bad purpose to disobey or disregard the law,” Kahn wrote.

Newton served 17 years in the General Assembly before giving up the 23rd Senate District seat and pleading guilty in 2005 to accepting a $5,000 bribe. He admitted to using campaign contributions for personal expenses and failing to report the improper income on his federal tax return. He served a five-year prison sentence.

After losing the 2012 campaign, Newton tried to regain his former state House seat in 2014 but lost in the Democratic primary. He was elected to the Bridgeport City Council last year.

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