Last year, Laura Jordan, the $150,000-a-year legal counsel to then-Speaker Christopher Donovan in the House Democrats' office at the Capitol, found herself in the middle of a federal grand jury investigation.
That circumstance made it a challenge for Jordan to find a new job — which she needed to do in the latter part of 2012, because Donovan was on the way out of office and incoming Speaker J. Brendan Sharkey would be hiring his own political staff in January.
Jordan hasn't been accused of any wrongdoing in the still-active investigation, which has involved an alleged conspiracy by "roll-your-own" tobacco shop operators and their associates to funnel thousands of dollars in contributions to Donovan's 2012 congressional campaign, in hopes of killing legislation to impose taxes on those shops.
But she was identified in The Courant last August as the Capitol staffer referred to by federal investigators as "Legislative Aide 1" in a July indictment document. The feds said that, in spring 2012, "Legislative Aide 1" gave inside information about legislative deliberations to a Donovan campaign aide alleged to be involved in the conspiracy to kill the roll-your-own tax bill.
As of the first week of August, Jordan had been taking more than twice as many hours off in vacation and compensatory time as she'd been working since the Donovan campaign scandal broke May 31. Sources said she had been looking for a new job, without success.
But fast-forward to last month — and, as many political appointees do, Jordan landed on her feet in another high-paying political position funded by state taxpayers. After leaving the speaker's office in early January, she began working Feb. 15 as a political appointee of another Democratic office-holder, state Treasurer Denise L. Nappier, in a $106,478-a-year job as executive assistant for policy, state records show.
Jordan's new position was advertised by Nappier's office last summer, with an application deadline of Aug. 31. There was "a very strong field" of 96 candidates, said David S. Barrett, Nappier's communications director, who is the former editor and vice president of The Courant.
Jordan's application for her new job was dated Jan. 28, five months after the advertised deadline for candidates.
Asked about that, Barrett said Jordan's politically appointed job is an "unclassified" state position — outside the "classified" civil service system in which most state employees work. And so, he said, Nappier had the option under state law of including Jordan in hiring deliberations that were still in progress when she applied.
Neither Jordan nor Nappier consented to be interviewed for this column.
Among questions asked by The Courant were: who may have recommended Jordan or spoken to Nappier in her behalf; whether the still-pending federal investigation has any focus on Jordan; and whether Jordan has cooperated fully with investigators and answered all of their questions.
Nappier responded to Courant questions with this statement: "Laura Jordan has a wealth of experience in government and law, and it is the depth and breadth of her skillset that complement the needs of the Treasury's policy unit, particularly as it relates to federal and regulatory matters of a fiscal nature. Based on our vetting, she is ethical and has a track record of professional performance. She was selected from a strong field of candidates who applied for the job. I have confidence in her ability to do the job well."
Asked what the "vetting" process involved, Barrett said Nappier would let her statement stand.
Jordan, on the advice of her attorney, refused to be interviewed during an internal investigation for which the Donovan campaign paid prominent lawyer Stanley Twardy last summer as the congressional candidate tried to quiet controversy.
Twardy found no evidence to implicate Donovan in wrongdoing, but the scandal ruined the then-speaker's chances of election in the 5th Congressional District. He lost a Democratic primary to Elizabeth Esty, who later won the November election and now serves in Congress.
Donovan has denied all knowledge of improper activity in his campaign, and has not been charged by federal authorities. The investigation continues. Eight people have been charged; three have pleaded guilty, while the others' cases are pending.
This past Friday brought the public release of subpoenas that were served by the office of the U.S. Attorney on legislative offices in the fall of last year. The subpoenas, which The Courant had requested under the state's Freedom of Information Act, showed that Jordan was one of four staff members in the House Democratic caucus whose emails and other records were demanded by federal investigators.
The subpoenas also revealed that the focus of the federal probe had widened from the "roll-your-own" issue that has generated all charges so far. The Courant learned Friday night that the feds also have delved into legislation that awarded tens of millions of dollars in state bonding money to community health clinics around the state.
One of the health centers that received bonding money, Middletown-based non-profit Community Health Center Inc., issued a statement Friday night saying: "It is a matter of public record that there is an ongoing inquiry by federal authorities into contributions to Chris Donovan's congressional campaign," adding that it has cooperated in the "ongoing" probe.
Federal prosecutors asserted in an indictment made public last July 26 that "Legislative Aide 1" — again, identified as Jordan in Courant stories — had exchanged electronic messages in April and May with Joshua Nassi, a former top aide in the speaker's office who left the state payroll to become Donovan's campaign manager in late 2011.
In addition to having worked on the same Capitol staff, Jordan and Nassi had a close personal relationship outside of work, sources have said.
Nassi was one of those charged in the alleged conspiracy in July. He has pleaded not guilty and his case is pending.
The July indictment said that on May 24 of last year, "Legislative Aide 1 sent Nassi an electronic message informing him of the status of negotiations" about whether the roll-your-own tax bill would be included in budget legislation coming up in a mid-June special legislative session. The bill had failed to win passage by the May 9 adjournment of the regular legislative session,
In the May 24 exchange, Legislative Aide 1 expressed concern to Nassi about being the sole opposition to the roll-your-own tax bill. The aide wrote "everyone wants roll ur own. I was the lone no."
"Oh sh_t," Nassi wrote in his electronic reply.
The roll-your-own tax ultimately was approved in the mid-June special session of the General Assembly.
Asked last summer about the mention of "Legislative Aide 1" in the indictment, Sharkey had said: ""There is nothing in the indictment that suggests that there was anything that took place to compromise legislation."
Sharkey, who was majority leader of the House at the time, added: "What we have from the indictment is an allegation from the federal authorities that text communications took place between Josh Nassi and an aide. … Nothing in the indictment says that the next thing occurred — which is if there was communication that was done to affect that legislation. Nothing like that's been alleged."
Meanwhile, Barrett, the former Courant editor, also is a newcomer at Nappier's office. He started there March 8 in another $106,478-a-year, politically appointed "unclassified" position. A year after leaving The Courant in 1997, he began a 15-year stint as the Hartford Seminary's public spokesman, ending with the title of director of public and institutional affairs.
Jon Lender is a reporter on The Courant's investigative desk, with a focus on government and politics. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, 860-241-6524, or c/o The Hartford Courant, 285 Broad St., Hartford, CT 06115 and find him on Twitter@jonlender.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun