NEW HAVEN — A scandal in the congressional campaign of House Speaker Chris Donovan expanded Thursday with the arrest of his former campaign manager and others accused of participating in a scheme to buy influence over pending state legislation.
A total of eight people have been charged in what federal prosecutors say was a bid to hide the source of $27,500 in campaign contributions, which were allegedly tied to an effort to defeat legislation to raise taxes on “roll-your-own” smoke shop owners. Those arrested Thursday by the FBI include the co-owners of a roll-your-own smoke shop in Waterbury.
Donovan, the endorsed Democrat in the race for the Fifth Congressional District seat, has denied involvement and has not been charged in the case. He planned to issue a statement later Thursday, as Dan Roberti, a Democrat challenging Donovan in the Aug. 14 primary, repeated his call for the speaker to leave the race.
Former US attorney Stanley Twardy, whom Donovan hired to do an independent investigation, found no evidence that Donovan was involved in or knew about the alleged scheme.
According to the indictment unsealed Thursday, the scheme began last year when Democratic operative Ray Soucy, 60, of Naugatuck and others, including roll-your-own smoke shop owners, began discussing the possibility that the legislature would pass a bill subjecting the owners to a licensing fee and tax increase. The shops allow customers to use machines to roll their own cigarettes, saving smokers money.
The former campaign manager — Joshua Nassi, 34, of Fairfield — is facing conspiracy and other charges.
One evening in May, during a discussion of Donovan’s position on the roll-your-own legislation, Soucy reminded Nassi that he had given $20,000 to the campaign. Soucy said he would give “another 10” when Nassi told him Donovan was “good with this.” The next day, Soucy told Nassi that he had spoken with Donovan and that the speaker had told him he was “working on it,” according to the indictment.
Five defendants arrested Thursday pleaded not guilty in US District Court in New Haven to charges including conspiracy, making false statements to FBI agents, and causing false reports to be filed with the Federal Election Commission.