The just completed federal criminal trial of Robert Braddock, a fundraiser for former Speaker of the House Christopher Donovan's unsuccessful 2012 congressional campaign, revealed corruption at the highest levels of the General Assembly. Law enforcement officials did their job, now politicians must act.
The case revolved around an investigation last year into a scheme to kill legislation — to tax roll-your-own smoke shops — by making political contributions to Donovan's congressional bid. Spreading tens of thousands of dollars around worked. The legislation was dead until the federal investigation into the plan exploded into public view.
The scandal claimed Donovan's career in politics, sinking his campaign for the Democratic nomination in the 5th Congressional District. If Republicans stand for anything, the scandal must also mark the end of House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero's long tenure in the House.
Seven defendants pleaded guilty without a trial. The Braddock trial required, to the public's benefit, the government to show its hand. In doing so, it painted a devastating portrait of key figures in state government.
The tobacco tax scheme was hatched by Harry Raymond Soucy, a former corrections officer and state employee leader who was a familiar figure at the Capitol, in late 2011. The feds infiltrated the conspiracy and it progressed in a manner that probably confirmed the low opinion FBI agents have of politicians.
Cafero has not been forthcoming about his sordid role in the $5,000 Soucy, a Cafero chum, gave to House Republicans.
Cafero announced when the scandal became public: "I learned that five $1,000 checks received by House Republican caucus political action committees in April may have been made with funds that originated from a government operation. When we initially received these contributions, they all bore the indicia and appropriate certifications attendant to legitimate donations."
Cafero did not tell the truth. He knew those contributions from Soucy were dirty. Before it arrived as checks, the $5,000, it is undisputed, was delivered in cash.
Soucy testified that he placed an envelope containing $5,000 in cash in the refrigerator in Cafero's office. Cafero hotly disputed that claim at the end of a day of testimony last week. Ridiculous, he thundered. Out of a bad movie.
The next day, federal prosecutors played a video of Soucy and Cafero, backs to camera, at the refrigerator. Politicians never have a reason to celebrate appearing in a poorly lit video shown at a criminal trial.
The $5,000 in cash was briefly in possession of Cafero or one of his minions before it was returned to Soucy. Then Cafero took his fatal, revealing step. The money was shortly thereafter handed over again. This time it had been transformed into five checks for $1,000 each and they were accepted by the Republicans.
It's against the law to accept a contribution of more than $100 in cash. The dirty money needed to be tidied. The five generous checks from two stooges did that. The Republicans knew the checks were tainted and happily took them. That was a big haul.
The money was not returned until the FBI swooped in late last spring. Cafero feigned surprise at the origins of the $5,000. He knew then, and he's always known. It was cash that became checks from straw donors, including Soucy's mother. (Imagine using your mom in a scheme like this. Oy, these people are bad.)
Cafero, revealed as grimy and dishonest by his acts, cannot continue as leader of the House Republicans. He should not be a member of the legislature. His compliant leadership team is also in tatters. Deputy Minority Leader Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, declined to acknowledge emails and a phone call seeking details on how he handled the money the committee he leads received. Silence will spare no one in this mess.
Cafero has neutered his party as an effective opposition while bringing shame on the House. He took illegal campaign contributions and then tried to keep his role in the conspiracy a secret. This is not a season for silence.
Kevin Rennie is a lawyer and a former Republican state legislator. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun