Contributions from associates and friends of now-indicted garbage executive James Galante to the 2004 presidential campaign of U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman have sparked the interest of federal investigators.
Lieberman's bid for the White House took in at least $14,000 from Galante, his associates and their relatives in the fall of 2003, according to a Courant review of campaign records.
The contributions to Lieberman, a longtime Democrat who became an independent in 2006, are similar to allegedly bundled contributions to three Republican officeholders that earlier this month led to state charges against Galante, who is also facing a 2006 federal racketeering indictment.
What's more, people familiar with the campaign matters say, the names of Lieberman, the three Republicans and about a dozen other Connecticut and New York politicians have turned up on what the FBI loosely refers to as a ``ledger'' that agents seized from Galante's office while investigating mob influence in the trash industry.
The so-called ledger, a subject of interest to a legislative committee investigating state Sen. Louis DeLuca, R-Woodbury, summarizes information provided to Galante by his lobbyists on fundraising goals set by a number of candidates, the people familiar with the documents said.
A Lieberman spokesman said no one knew of any irregularities or improprieties at the time of the contributions.
Galante was charged Oct. 13 with violating state campaign finance laws, based on a series of suspect $1,000 contributions in 2002 and 2003 to political action committees controlled by DeLuca, state Sen. David Cappiello, R-Danbury, and Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton. Galante is accused of trying to disguise up to $38,000 in personal contributions to the three Republican candidates' political action committees.
``Bundling'' of contributions -- that is, gathering together the checks of several associates and giving them to a candidate all at once -- is not illegal in itself. It becomes illegal when someone uses bundling to exceed a legal contribution limit by passing money through third parties, who each write checks within the legal limit.
That is what authorities claim Galante did for the Republican politicians. He is accused of contributing as much as $15,000 to DeLuca's PAC, $15,000 to Cappiello's and $8,000 to Boughton's. The arrest warrant in Galante's case said he passed the money to the three officials in increments of $1,000 -- the maximum donation allowed by state law for a PAC -- through employees of his various trash businesses, their family members or their friends.
Now it turns out that several of those same employees, friends and relatives gave a total of $10,000 to Lieberman's campaign on Nov. 25 and 26, 2003, a Courant examination of federal campaign finance records shows.
The donors, from Connecticut and New York, included one of Galante's lobbyists and the lobbyist's sister -- as well as two former Galante employees recently sentenced to federal prison for participating in a racketeering conspiracy that Galante is accused of orchestrating through his garbage companies.
In addition to the $10,000 on those two days in November 2003, Lieberman's campaign received $2,000 from Galante himself on Sept. 30, 2003, and two more donations totaling $2,000 from Galante lobbyist Joseph Walkovich of Danbury on Sept. 30 and Nov. 14 of that year.
In spite of the federal interest in the Lieberman donations, no charges have been filed against Galante in connection with contributions to the U.S. senator's campaign for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination.
Lieberman's office has been contacted by the FBI and the U.S. attorney's office about ``the circumstances of the donations made to Joe Lieberman for President'' by Galante associates, Lieberman's press secretary, Rob Sawicki, confirmed last week.
Sawicki said that ``no one involved with Joe Lieberman for President had any idea that there was any impropriety involved in the donations made through Mr. Galante.''
``There were several people raising money for Joe Lieberman for President, and it is not uncommon for fundraisers to bundle donations from friends and family,'' Sawicki said.
``Those donations would never have been accepted had the campaign been aware of any wrongdoing in the bundling of those donations. If federal investigators determine that any laws were broken in connection with these donations, Senator Lieberman will donate the money to a charity.''
Cappiello responded similarly earlier this year when his PAC gave $15,000 to charity after it was revealed the 2002 contributions were suspect.
Cappiello, DeLuca and Boughton have not themselves been targeted by authorities, and all three said what Lieberman is saying now -- that they thought the contributions were legitimate and had no idea Galante could have been manipulating the finances.
Galante, who is awaiting trial on a federal indictment accusing him of illegal price-fixing in the garbage industry, said through a spokesman that he will not discuss the campaign money. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges and is expected to be tried in about a year. All the suspect donations were made before the June 2006 indictment.
Lieberman's name along with about a dozen political figures appears on the so-called Galante ``ledger'' -- which was discovered in an office credenza when FBI agents raided his trash headquarters in Danbury in July 2005.
The document has proved intriguing to the legislative committee examining the relationship between Galante and DeLuca. The lawmakers first learned of the ledger when the U.S. attorney's office granted them permission to review a heavily redacted report of an FBI interview of DeLuca.
By the time agents found DeLuca's name on the so-called ledger, they had collected wiretap and other information indicating that DeLuca had accepted Galante's offer to have someone ``pay a visit'' to a man DeLuca believed was physically abusing his granddaughter.
The visit never took place, but DeLuca was nonetheless charged with conspiracy to commit threatening. He was convicted in June.
But so far, committee members, who are charged with recommending whether DeLuca should be expelled from the Senate, have been unable to satisfy their curiosity.
When he appeared before the committee two weeks ago, DeLuca testified, ``As I told the FBI, I don't know what the ledger is.''
Later, he told committee members he didn't know if the number ``25,000'' next to his name referred to $25,000, or whether Galante ever gave him that much money. ``I don't recall him contributing that much,'' DeLuca said. ``But he could have.''
Intrigued, but frustrated by the redactions, the committee asked the U.S. attorney's office for additional information, in particular, the significance of the ``25,000.'' The U.S. attorney's office has not said how it will respond. DeLuca opposes the release of additional information.
``It's uncertain as to what that is a reference to, the `25,000,''' state Sen. Andrea Stillman, D-Waterford, mused during a meeting. ``Of course, there isn't a dollar sign. It doesn't say chickens. It doesn't say anything. It just says the number.''
Others familiar with the so-called ledger have over recent weeks questioned whether the word ``ledger'' is even an appropriate characterization. They said the document is, more accurately, a succession of pages torn from a pad similar to the sort a business executive such as Galante might have by his office telephone.
They said the pages contain various jotted notes, apparently written over time, sometimes in pencil and at other times in a variety of inks. Notes about business matters are interspersed with the names of the political figures. Aligned against the names of the political figures are sums ranging from 2,500 to 100,000. Along with Lieberman, the names include candidates for local office in eastern New York.
The FBI and U.S. attorney's office refuse to discuss the ledger.
But people familiar with the document said the political names and corresponding figures represent fundraising goals that Galante was told various political figures were trying to achieve in 2002 and 2003. The same people said Galante employed at least two lobbyists -- Patrick Sullivan and Walkovich -- who advised him on, among other things, political contributions.
Galante, who owns a network of trash businesses with annual sales approaching $100 million, is a well-known charitable benefactor in Western Connecticut, having given millions to, among other things, veterans' causes and school athletic programs in his hometown of New Fairfield.
Over the past six weeks, Galante's political charity has eclipsed his other giving, as well as his legal problems -- notably, a 93-count, federal racketeering indictment accusing him of conspiring with New York gangsters to monopolize the trash hauling market in western Connecticut and upstate New York.
When legislators began collecting evidence in consideration of punishing DeLuca, the racketeering case turned into something of a political potboiler.
A small number of 2003 donations to Lieberman, who at the time was running for president in the 2004 election, follow the same pattern.
Federal records show that $10,000 in donations for Lieberman's presidential campaign came in on Nov. 25 and 26, 2003, from donors -- or their associates or relatives -- who made at least one of the 38 PAC contributions mentioned in the affidavit that state investigators filed to justify Galante's Oct. 13 arrest.
Those 2003 donations to Lieberman included:
$2,000 on Nov. 26 from Mary Walkovich of Danbury. She is the sister of Galante's local lobbyist, Joseph Walkovich. Joseph Walkovich had written one of 15 checks for $1,000 that the investigative affidavit says were received Oct. 10, 2002, by Cappiello's PAC, the 24th District Republican Committee.
Joseph Walkovich also made donations of $500 and $1,500 to Lieberman on Sept. 30 and Nov. 14, 2003, records show.
$1,000 each on Nov. 25 from Ciro and Kim Viento of Mahopac, N.Y., each of whom gave $1,000 in 2002 to DeLuca's PAC, called 32 GOP. Ciro Viento has worked for years as the operations manager for Galante's garbage companies, and was sentenced in August to 2 1/2 years in federal prison after a March guilty plea to a racketeering conspiracy charge.
$2,000 each on Nov. 25 from longtime Galante employee Paul DiNardo of Danbury -- who gave $1,000 each in 2002 to DeLuca's and Boughton's PACs -- and from Mona Russo of Danbury, one of the 15 people who donated $1,000 to Cappiello's PAC on Oct. 10, 2002. DiNardo was sentenced Sept. 12 to 21 months in federal prison after pleading guilty last December to a racketeering conspiracy charge.
$1,000 each from Nicholas and Linda Maraglino of Danbury on Nov. 25 and 26, respectively. Nicholas Maraglino was one of the 15 who gave a $1,000 check to Cappiello's PAC on Oct. 10, 2002, as cited in the Galante arrest affidavit. Maraglino, owner of a tire company who has done business with Galante, acknowledged the contributions in an interview with the Courant, but said he gave the money himself and was not reimbursed by Galante or anyone else.
None of the other 2003 donors to Lieberman could be reached for comment.
Contact Edmund H. Mahony at email@example.com.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun