Former Connecticut governor John G. Rowland, who resigned in July amid a corruption scandal, pleaded guilty in federal court yesterday to a charge of improperly accepting and failing to pay taxes on gratuities from companies and people with business before the state.
The single count of conspiracy to steal honest service is a felony that carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The 47-year-old Republican is scheduled to be sentenced by U.S. District Judge Peter C. Dorsey on March 11.
John Rowland, who resigned as Connecticut governor this summer, leaves court with his wife, Patty, in New Haven after pleading guilty to conspiracy to steal honest services.
(Steve Miller -- AP)
"He has by this action put to an end a long ordeal that has been especially painful to his family and those closest to him," said Rowland attorney William F. Dow III. "We look forward to presenting Judge Dorsey a catalogue of personal and professional contributions and accomplishments that will justify a minimum sentence when we return to court."
Dow said that federal sentencing guidelines call for 15 to 21 months in prison but that he will "urge the judge that he should use his discretion in imposing a sentence below that."
Connecticut Democrats, however, said a lengthy prison term is in order.
"He transformed the government into a massive racketeering operation and brought shame to a state that has historically been known as pretty clean," said George Jepsen, the state Democratic Party chairman. "If anything, he deserves everything in those recommended guidelines."
Rowland's plea brings to a close a two-year investigation that drove him from office and led to the charge for accepting about $15,000 worth of vacation stays at the home of a state contractor in Vermont and about $90,000 worth of flights to Las Vegas, provided by an unnamed source.
A fast-rising star in state politics who in 1994, at age 37, became the nation's youngest governor, Rowland was also once rumored to be on the short list for various Bush administration posts.
Calls for his resignation from a host of politicians and local news organizations intensified earlier this year after he admitted last December that he had lied about accepting $30,000 worth of gifts, including a hot tub and a cathedral ceiling for a summer cottage.
Further revelations of impropriety followed, and Rowland resigned this summer amid legislative hearings that could have led to his impeachment.
He maintained throughout the process that he had never delivered political favors in return for gifts, though the plea agreement said he had approved a no-bid contract for a construction firm involved.
"Obviously, there have been mistakes throughout the last few years, and I take responsibility for that," Rowland told reporters on the steps of the New Haven courthouse.
Separate legal proceedings related to corruption by other members of his administration are ongoing.
The last governor to resign from office after a criminal investigation was Arkansas Democrat Jim Guy Tucker, who left office in 1996 after he was convicted on federal fraud charges.
Connecticut's current governor, M. Jodi Rell (R), who had been lieutenant governor and took office after Rowland stepped down, said in a statement that the state had been "humiliated" by the episode and that when she heard the news she felt as if she had "been punched in the gut."
"This plea agreement is a sad ending to a tragic chapter in Connecticut's history," she said. "My anger has only hardened my resolve to continue righting the ship of state. We must make certain our government works for the benefit of all citizens and ensure that this never happens again."