Monday, March 21, 2005

The asshole skates ...

Rowland Sentenced: One Year Reduced From Hubris, He Confronts His Fear

March 19, 2005
Hartford Courant Staff Writers

NEW HAVEN -- John G. Rowland, the brash ex-governor once thought to have a limitless political future, was sentenced to a year and a day in prison Friday after admitting, in an emotional plea for leniency, that he took illegal gifts out of pride, arrogance and a distorted sense of entitlement.

"I'm ashamed to be here today, and I accept full responsibility for my actions," Rowland said, dabbing at tears as he addressed Senior U.S District Judge Peter C. Dorsey.

"I have embarrassed myself, my family and the many people who have placed their faith in me over the past 25 years. ... Whatever good works I have accomplished will be overshadowed by the events that have led me here today, and I bear total responsibility for that."

"I lost sight of my ethical judgment," Rowland said.

"Over time, a sense of entitlement and even arrogance developed along with my time in office. I let my pride get in the way."

Dorsey's sentence was considerably less than the 15-to-21 month sentencing range negotiated in Rowland's plea bargain agreement. He pleaded guilty to a federal conspiracy charge that arose from his receiving $107,000 in gifts and services from businessmen who won hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts and tax breaks from his administration.

The day Dorsey tacked onto the year in Rowland's sentence will actually get him out of prison faster because of "good time" available to inmates serving more than a year. Under federal prison calculations, Rowland will be eligible for release after serving 85 percent of the sentence, about 10½ months.

After he gets out, Rowland will have to serve three years of supervised release, including four months of home confinement, and perform 300 hours of community service. In addition, he was ordered to pay $35,000 in taxes he owes on the illegal gifts he received, $72,000 to reimburse the state for the gifts he accepted and a $10,000 fine. Dorsey ordered Rowland to make the $72,000 and $10,000 payments within six months.

The sentence, imposed by a judge with a reputation for leniency toward white-collar criminals, seemed to buoy Rowland's lawyer, William F. Dow III.

"I have no intention of appealing the sentence," an upbeat Dow said afterward.

"I and my client are grateful that we appeared before a judge who has the experience, sensitivity and wisdom to take an objective perspective."

But federal prosecutors were disappointed. On Thursday, the U.S. attorney's office had urged Dorsey to put Rowland in prison for up to 37 months, saying that the office had learned that Rowland had tried to conceal a $416,000 personal retirement account from federal officials.

By portraying his financial condition as increasingly dire, prosecutors said, Rowland was trying to generate leniency from the court.

At a minimum, federal prosecutors had hoped Dorsey would deliver a strong warning to politicians by returning a sentence based on the 15-to-21 month guideline range negotiated when Rowland pleaded guilty on Dec. 23.

"In terms of the sentence that was imposed by Judge [Dorsey] today the U.S. attorney's office would indicate that we are disappointed that the court didn't impose a guideline sentence as we believe it should have," Deputy U.S. Attorney John Durham said Friday.

"At the same time I would indicate that we are very pleased that a corrupt public official, somebody who violated the trust of the people of Connecticut, is going to prison."

Michael Wolf, who heads the state FBI division, said Rowland's imprisonment shows "our collective resolve to rid the system of those individuals who line their pockets at the public's expense."

Rowland, 47, pleaded guilty to the corruption charge in December, admitting that he accepted chartered trips to Las Vegas, Vermont vacations and repairs to his lakeside cottage. The corruption probe and a legislative impeachment investigation prompted Rowland to resign in July, ending one of the most storied political careers in Connecticut history.

At one point during his remarks to Dorsey, Dow said his client is at the bottom of the longest fall there is in Connecticut politics - from onetime Republican wunderkind to disgraced political crook on the way to the penitentiary.

Standing, pale-faced and wearing a dark suit, in the center of a packed old courtroom on the city green, Rowland himself seemed lost. There was no sign of the cock-sure, wisecracking politician who was elected governor three times. Even as FBI and IRS agents closed in on his office a year ago, Rowland still oozed invincibility, brushing back reporters with barbed insults.

But Friday, pride was replaced by fear. The afternoon had the trappings of a public execution and Rowland knew he was the star. Outside the courthouse, good government advocates practiced street theater, guarded by horse officers. Inside, stone-faced federal investigators glared and friends and relations twitched nervously.

Rowland's voice broke. He struggled to read from notes. He pleaded, abjectly at times, for leniency. He was not making a speech, he said, but trying to explain "how I feel today."

He said many people, no doubt, would judge his words as "insincere and calculated" no matter how hard he tried to convince them otherwise.

"This has been a long and painful and humiliating process," Rowland said, his voice thick with emotion.

"I have lost my career, the respect of others and to a great extent my own self-respect, and as painful as this has been for me, it has been worse for my family."

"I want my family to know, I want my friends to know, I want the people of the state to know I am sorry and I ask for their forgiveness."

When Dow spoke, it was to minimize Rowland's behavior and argue for leniency. Dow repeated arguments he has made many times before. He said Rowland was not corrupt, but guilty of bad judgment and a worse management style. He said Rowland delegated authority to assistants who corrupted his office.

The ex-governor, Dow said, was guilty only of taking gifts he shouldn't have and trying to hide them.

Dow's portrayal of Rowland's relationship with former staff members and a state contractor also accused of corruption seemed to animate Assistant U.S. Attorney Nora Dannehy.

"It was not a fuzzy relationship," Dannehy said.

"It was a corrupt relationship. This case is not about a lack of management style. ... This is about arrogance. It is about greed."

She implored Dorsey to slap Rowland with a lengthy prison sentence. To do otherwise, she said, would send a message to all other government employees that corruption is not condemned, but only frowned upon in Connecticut. She said Rowland should be treated like a common criminal, someone without his advantages of "charm, eloquence, magnetism and public relations savvy."

She said if he does not receive enough jail time, "the message being sent is there's two sets of rules."

Responding to what she called efforts by Dow to "minimize" Rowland's crime, Dannehy said Rowland has

"corrupted the office of governor, the same as if he had taken a bag of cash in a dark alley.

He is corrupt."

She said Dow's portrayal of Rowland was inconsistent: The good things that came from his administration were the result of the governor's hands-on efforts, the bad things a product of a management style that led him to delegate to subordinates.

"You can't have it both ways, Your Honor, you just can't," she said."If ...John Rowland, is not held accountable, then the people's trust simply isn't that important," Dannehy told Dorsey.

"Honest government matters, it has to matter. Send that message, send it loud and clear."

Dorsey appeared to have decided on Rowland's sentence even before the hearing began. Early in the proceeding, he said he was rejecting prosecution claims that the sentence should be above 30 months. And as the proceeding dragged out, there were increasingly frequent indications that the sentence would be shorter yet. At one point, Dorsey ruminated on the misfortune Rowland's five children would experience without their father's earning power to provide for their educations.

At times, Dorsey lectured Rowland:

"He was not elected to receive gratuities," Dorsey said.

"He was entrusted with the authority of the governorship to promote and serve the best interests of all citizens of the state. ... His conduct betrayed that trust."

But in the end, he imposed a sentence significantly shorter than what the law permitted.

Pressed by Dannehy to explain why, Dorsey said his sentence was influenced by Rowland's record of public service and "by the situation as far as the children were concerned."

After a moment's thought, Dorsey clarified his answer, saying public service was the primary driver of the sentence.

Rowland hugged his wife, then his daughters, both young women. All the women were in tears.

His wife whispered, "It will be all right."

When Rowland reports to a federal prison April 1, he will become one of more than a dozen former governors to serve prison time and only the second in New England.

The first was former Rhode Island Gov. Edward D. DiPrete, who was sentenced to a year in prison in 1998 for bribery, extortion and racketeering.

Rowland is likely to serve his sentence in a recently opened facility on a decommissioned military base in Ayer, Mass., about 40 miles west of Boston and 20 miles north of Worcester.

The base houses male prisoners who require specialized or long-term medical or mental health care. The facility also has a satellite camp for minimum-security male inmates.

After the sentencing hearing was adjourned, the court's chief probation officer, Maria Rodrigues McBride, passed by a knot of federal law enforcement personnel, including Dannehy, who had strenuously criticized the sympathetic probation report that McBride wrote and Dorsey relied significantly upon.

She reached out her hand to Dannehy, smiled, and said a few words, including "truce?"

Dannehy seemed to force a smile, but shook hands.

Asked afterward about the controversy over her report on Rowland, McBride said, "It's OK. [If] we disagree, we disagree."

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