Experts: Rowland may stay free during appeal
Published 4:05 pm, Wednesday, March 25, 2015
Former governor John G. Rowland, sentenced this week to 30 months in prison for his role as a shadow political operative, could avoid prison indefinitely while a planned appeal of his campaign-fraud conviction languishes in the federal courts.
Rowland's lawyers are expected to seek to have the disgraced former Republican governor stay free on bail as part of their appeal, which must be filed by April 1 and could take up to two years to adjudicate.
It will be up to the judge in Rowland's case, Janet Bond Arterton, of the U.S. District Court in New Haven, to decide whether the two-time convicted felon remains a free man. Otherwise, Rowland must surrender June 16 and start serving his sentence at the federal prison in Otisville, N.Y. Given the nonviolent nature of his crimes and documented objections by his defense team over the government's prosecution of the case, criminal law experts say the 57-year-old Rowland has a fair shot of remaining free on bail during his appeal.
"He's not a danger to the community. He's not a flight risk," said Lindy Urso, a criminal defense lawyer from Greenwich who is not connected with the case. "Now, there's always concerns about public perception. That could come into play, but it shouldn't."
A former state prosecutor who asked not to be identified put Rowland's odds of staying free on bail at 50-50. Had he not been previously incarcerated for 10 months a decade ago for accepting bribes from state contractors -- a scandal that forced Rowland to resign in 2004 -- the odds of Rowland's freedom would be closer to 80 percent, the ex-prosecutor said.
Rowland's lawyers, Reid Weingarten and Jeffrey Novack, did not respond to a request for comment Friday. Neither did Arterton, who has presided over several political corruption trials and has a reputation for being a tough judge.
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A jury convicted Rowland last September of federal election law violations, conspiracy and obstruction of justice, stemming from his role as an off-the-books political consultant to failed Republican congressional candidate Lisa Wilson-Foley in 2012.
Not wanting to be tainted by putting Rowland on the campaign payroll, Wilson-Foley's husband, Brian Foley, employed the former governor at the nursing home chain Apple Rehab and funneled $35,000 in fees to him. In 2010, Rowland pitched a similar scheme to GOP congressional hopeful Mark Greenberg, who rebuffed him.
There will be no early parole for Rowland, who must serve a minimum of 25.5 months in prison under federal sentencing guidelines. The terms of Rowland's sentence also require him to pay a $35,000 fine and serve three years' probation after his prison release.
As part of their motion for an appeal bond, Rowland's lawyers must prove there is legal basis for their appeal and that they are not simply trying to delay Rowland's prison sentence.
The basis of Rowland's appeal is expected to be that prosecutors suppressed key evidence on the contract between Rowland and Wilson-Foley, who lost out on her party's nomination for Congress in the 5th District. The district stretches from Danbury to the Farmington Valley and includes Litchfield County, Meriden and New Britain.
In contrast to the state criminal court system, in the federal system Rowland would not necessarily be required to write a check to cover his bail. He could use his family's Middlebury home, which was assessed at $301,800 in 2014, as collateral, providing there is sufficient equity in the property.
"There's no bail bondsman," Urso said.
During Rowland's sentencing Wednesday, his wife, Patty Rowland, said the couple had depleted their savings fighting the charges.
"I'm sure he's got friends that would pass the hat in order for him to make the appeal bond," Urso said.
In Connecticut, the public's perception of granting bond to criminals is significantly colored by the case of Alex Kelly, the preppie rapist from Darien who spent eight years on the lam in Europe until his 1995 surrender to Swiss authorities and extradition. Kelly served 10 years in prison for raping two teenage girls and was released in 2007.
"He's not going Alex Kelly," Urso said of Rowland. "Where's he going, at this stage in his life?"
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