Ex-Connecticut governor pleads guilty to corruption
NEW HAVEN, Conn. – Six months after being driven from office by scandal, former Gov. John G. Rowland pleaded guilty to a corruption charge Thursday, admitting he traded his office for more than $100,000 in flights to Las Vegas, Vermont vacations and repairs to his vacation cottage.
Rowland, 47, probably will get 15 to 21 months in federal prison, lawyers said.
The once popular three-term Republican had maintained for months that the businessmen and cronies who lavished gifts on him had received nothing in exchange. With a single word Thursday, he changed all that: “Guilty,” he told the court, his attorney’s hand on his back as he spoke.
The plea ends a two-year federal investigation of the former politician, though he could still face state charges.
“Obviously, mistakes have been made throughout the last few years, and I accept responsibility for those,” he said after court. “But I also ask the people of this state to appreciate and understand what we have tried to do over the past 25 years in public service.”
Rowland had not been charged with a crime before Thursday.
The guilty plea completed the downfall of a man who was once one of the GOP’s rising young stars, a political boy wonder who first got elected to Congress at age 27 and went on to serve 91Ú2 years as governor.
“While we knew that this day might come, we were never really prepared for the reality of it,” said Gov. M. Jodi Rell, who replaced Rowland. “Today the state of Connecticut was humiliated, and I, as John Rowland’s former running mate and colleague, feel personally betrayed. When I first heard the news, I felt like I was punched in the gut.”
Under a deal with federal prosecutors, Rowland pleaded guilty to a single count, conspiracy to steal honest services – a combination of mail and tax fraud. He admitted being part of a conspiracy in the executive branch – sometimes directing corruption, other times looking the other way.
The crime carries up to five years in prison. Prosecutors have agreed to ask for no more than two years at sentencing March 11. As a convicted felon, Rowland will be unable to vote or hold public office.
By pleading guilty, Rowland escaped indictment in a racketeering case that had already ensnared his former co-chief of staff, Peter N. Ellef, and state contractor William Tomasso. That case would have exposed Rowland to “a devastating amount of time,” said his attorney, William F. Dow III.
Rowland owes the IRS more than $35,000 and faces up to $40,000 in fines, according to his plea bargain. The agreement does not require Rowland to testify against Ellef and Tomasso.