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Feds Circling — Rowland Feels Heat Rise

John Rowland

Former Gov. John Rowland works his talk show on WTIC-AM. Federal authorities are investigating Rowland for possible campaign finance violations. (Shawn Sienkiewicz / FOX CT / September 22, 2010)

John Rowland again.

The felonious former governor, The Courant confirmed Tuesday, has hired a high-flying Washington, D.C., law firm to represent him in the ominous federal criminal investigation of Rowland's furtive role in Simsbury Republican Lisa Wilson Foley's failed 2012 congressional campaign.

Rowland has enough experience crossing bright lines that he ought to have known the hint of campaign finance shenanigans would draw the interest of federal investigators. Much of the investigation has transpired in secret, but we know the essentials, and they are not good for the former governor whose third term came to an early end in 2004 when he resigned amid scandal. In 2005, he went to federal prison for corruption. You wonder what sort of person it is whose memory of that ordeal would fade.

Lisa Wilson Foley and her husband, Brian Foley, own many nursing homes. They are very rich. So rich that after the 2001 terrorist attacks on America, Wilson Foley declared that should disaster strike again she'd board the family jet and fly away. No simple go-bag for her.

As Wilson Foley sought the Republican nomination for Congress in the 5th District, Rowland became a consultant for the Foley nursing homes. Rowland began using his afternoon radio talk show on WTIC-AM to pummel Wilson Foley competitor Andrew Roraback. Some Republican leaders were startled at Rowland's testy campaigning to gather delegates for Wilson Foley.

When links between Rowland, Wilson Foley and her husband became known during that campaign, you didn't need the services of Miss Jane Marple, Agatha Christie's amateur sleuth, to know something untoward might be going on. It was the unseemly triumphant's misfortune that Farmington Republican Mike Clark was also in the congressional race. He's the heroic former FBI agent who helped take out Rowland and put him in the hoosegow in 2005.

Clark filed a complaint with the Federal Elections Commission. An investigation followed. In June 2012, I was among the first to examine an official document from federal criminal investigators referring to a matter regarding Rowland. Sisters and brothers, you do not want to see your name on one of those. It is a prelude to years of expensive stress and uncertainty.

Praise also goes to Republican congressional hopeful Mark Greenberg. He has been stalwart in telling a credible and unsavory account of Rowland's attempt to shake him down for campaign consulting services in 2010, including the former governor's suggestion that they cover the illegal ruse by running money through the nonprofit animal shelter Greenberg founded.

We saw how seriously federal authorities view campaign finance shenanigans in the vigorous prosecution of the men ensnared in the successful investigation of the connection between tax legislation regarding roll-you-own tobacco shops and Democratic former Speaker of the House Christopher Donovan's 2012 congressional campaign. In the Donovan campaign investigation, eight men were convicted. The ringleaders face prison terms that ought to make Rowland nervous.

These investigations usually require someone with guilty knowledge to crack and start providing investigators and members of a grand jury with lethal information. Previous public declarations of innocence are not repeated in private. They start to sing, sing, sing in return for a deal that will keep them out of jail. It does not mean the chatty conspirator won't have to plead guilty to something, but no jail time will be sought by prosecutors who attest to the assistance provided by the repentant cooperating defendant.

Law enforcement officials across the land know convicting a high-profile defendant sends a message to others tempted to break the law. The Rowland investigation will serve as another warning to state politicians that campaign finance laws are not mere suggestions. They are watching. Beware what you put in your pockets and refrigerators.

The public will be interested to see politicians with no discernible standards continue to appear on Rowland's afternoon talk show. Payola was the term for pay to play records on the radio in the 1950s. We may know soon if Rowland and the Foleys contrived to create a political version of that scheme at WTIC.

What the management of WTIC countenanced or condemned will also be worth knowing, as radio stations operate over the public airways and hold a public trust of their own.

Kevin Rennie is a lawyer and a former Republican state legislator. He can be reached at kfrennie@yahoo.com

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