House Minority Leader Larry Cafero’s name was slung around Tuesday in the federal corruption trial of former House Speaker Chris Donovan’s former congressional campaign’s former finance director Robert Braddock Jr.
A defense attorney in federal court in New Haven used the word “bribe” to describe a $5,000 cash contribution, after what Cafero thought was going to be a meeting in the Capitol about labor issues, from Ray Soucy, who was then a politically connected prison guard union officer.
Now Soucy’s a confessed felon awaiting sentencing after helping in the FBI sting that resulted in eight arrests and seven guilty pleas. Donovan, whose congressional bid last year was ruined by the scandal, has not been implicated.
Also present at that meeting were two figures in the roll-your-own tobacco business, whom Cafero initially thought were also corrections officers.
But the cash – unacceptable under state and federal election law – was immediately returned and a few days later, checks arrived for a House GOP political action committee. When Cafero was interviewed by the FBI at the end of May last year, he told them he would return the checks.
Cafero, who has declined comment on the issue for almost a year, told the Hearst Connecticut Newspapers that he didn’t personally receive contributions from the shop owners.
“I was never, to my knowledge and belief, bribed because you need a quid pro quo with a bribe,” Cafero said, remembering the mid-March meeting last year.
Here’s more of the recorded interview:
“He introduced them as smoke shop owners. I said ‘Ray, what’s your connection to them? and he said ‘well I’ll be retiring soon and I want to get into the business.’ Oh, all right. They introduced themselves. They told me about their business. I told them I was familiar with it. I have a neighbor that owns Tracey’s Smoke Shop (on Connecticut Avenue in Norwalk) and his mother lives across the street from me. I said what’s the issue? There’s nothing in the news. They said ‘well, nothing, you know, we just want to introduce ourselves and tell you about our business.’ They said there was a lawsuit, or some movement afoot with the DRS (Dept of Revenue Services) to tax…I said well that’s not a good thing taxing small business, blah, blah, blah. I said is there a bill? No? Well, it’s nice to meet you. After that Ray Soucy said ‘my guys want to give a donation, which they had in the past. Now I’m thinking corrections guys. They had given donations to our PACs in the past. I said no problem, let me get my staff guy (John Healey) and I said we don’t do that here. Wait until after hours and we can meet outside the building…It’s about 5 o’clock, day’s over, I go back to my law firm. John goes and meets them at the O (Officer’s Club in the nearby State Armory) Club. They give him an envelope. He comes back and opens the envelope and it’s full of money. He calls me. I said ‘Are you kidding me?’ I told him to run back and give it back. So he went back and gave it back to them and said ‘look, we don’t take money, or cash. If you want to donate I’ll show you legal ways to donate.’ So he sent them an email. He didn’t hear from him for two or three weeks later. Then John said ‘oh, Ray Soucy gave us $5,000 in checks.’ Everything legit? Yeah, he had the certification. I didn’t know who they were from. Next thing I know it’s now May 31, or May 30, I get the call from the FBI, go down to their offices in Meriden. They unveil this scheme and I’m like Oh my God. And they talked about this $5,000 and I said ‘Wait a minute, you gave Soucy that money to give to us?’ They go ‘We think so,” but they weren’t sure. I said we didn’t take cash. Well, I said we’re giving that money back. They said ‘well, we’d appreciate it if you didn’t do that.’ I said ‘listen guys, I don’t want to interfere with any investigation, but I’m not having that money in my PAC. I’m giving it back.’ So I called John, I told him I don’t know who gave you the money but find out who did and send it back. Say that the FBI said it was of questionable origin and we don’t want any part of it and that’s what he did. That’s the last I heard of it.”
The DRS effort to tax the roll-your-own tobacco machines was approved in the so-called implementer phase of last year’s budget that was passed after the regular legislative session.