HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — The finance director of Connecticut House Speaker Christopher Donovan's congressional campaign has been charged by federal authorities in an alleged conspiracy to hide the source of $20,000 in campaign contributions connected to legislation that would have raised taxes on "roll-your-own" smoke shop owners.
Federal prosecutors on Thursday announced that 33-year-old Robert Braddock Jr. of Meriden was charged Wednesday with conspiring with others to accept "conduit" campaign contributions, which are donations made by one person in the name of another person. Authorities said Braddock is finance director for a congressional candidate they won't name, but Donovan's campaign records show Braddock works for him.
Donovan is the Democrats' endorsed candidate for the 5th District seat now held by Rep. Chris Murphy, who is running for the U.S. Senate. Donovan faces a primary challenge from former state Rep. Elizabeth Esty and Dan Roberti. Donovan said he and his campaign are cooperating with the investigation.
"The campaign employees allegedly involved have been terminated, and the leadership of the campaign has changed," Donovan said in a written statement.
Braddock appeared before a U.S. magistrate judge Wednesday and was released on $100,000 bail. He's charged with conspiracy to conceal campaign contributions, which carries up to five years in prison and up to $250,000 in fines.
"Mr. Braddock is not guilty. He maintains his innocence and he believes the evidence will prove his innocence," said Frank J. Riccio II, Braddock's lawyer.
Federal investigators say the illegal contributions were prompted by proposed legislation this year that would have deemed "roll-your-own" smoke shop owners as tobacco manufacturers under state law, subjecting them to a tax increase and hefty licensing fee. The bill died after failing to reach a vote in either the House or Senate.
After the bill cleared the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee in April, federal authorities said the potential enactment of the proposal prompted Braddock and other unnamed co-conspirators to arrange a $10,000 payment to Donovan's campaign in the form of four $2,500 checks in the names of conduit contributors.
After the legislation session ended on May 9 without the bill passing, authorities say the conspirators arranged another $10,000 payment that included three checks from conduit contributors to Donovan's campaign and a fourth check from a conduit contributor to a political party.
The next day, authorities said, a co-conspirator told Braddock that one of the checks was provided by a roll-your-own shop owner and Braddock arranged for that check not to be deposited into the campaign account. The co-conspirator later provided another campaign aide a replacement check for $2,500 in the name of a different conduit contributor not affiliated with any roll-your-own shops, officials said.
Prosecutors say the investigation included numerous recorded conversations and several undercover FBI agents.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy called the allegations "despicable," saying in a statement that while he is encouraged that Donovan is cooperating, he should also provide a full explanation of what he knows.
"Allegations like this not only damage a campaign or a candidate, they also undermine (citizens') belief in their government's ability to carry out its responsibilities," Malloy said.
The investigation is ongoing, Connecticut U.S. Attorney David B. Fein said.
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