The former finance director of Connecticut House Speaker Chris Donovan's congressional campaign pleaded not guilty Thursday to charges stemming from an alleged scheme to hide the source of $27,500 in campaign contributions, prompting one of Donovan's rivals to call for the Democratic candidate to drop out of the primary race.
Robert Braddock Jr., 33, of Meriden was arraigned in U.S. District Court in New Haven. He would face up to 12 years in prison if convicted on charges of conspiring to conceal federal campaign contributions, accepting federal campaign contributions made by people in the names of others and causing false reports to be filed with the Federal Election Commission.
His appearance came a day after a federal grand jury indicted him. Braddock was initially charged in May in a criminal complaint. The indictment alleged the scheme began as early as November 2011 and involved several owners of Connecticut roll-your-own tobacco shops who wanted to stop legislation before the General Assembly that could subject them to new taxes and licensing fees.
Braddock was accused of conspiring with others to use conduit contributors to violate federal campaign contribution limits and hide where the funds originated.
Daniel Roberti, one of two Democrats challenging Donovan in the Aug. 14 primary, said the indictment "demonstrates the seriousness" of federal investigators, and said "it is a sad situation" for Democrats in the 5th Congressional District to have to go to the polls in about a month without any explanation from Donovan.
"He has hidden behind lawyers and never stepped up to explain how members of his campaign staff could have arranged conduit contributions without his knowledge," Roberti said. "New revelations in the indictment show Chris Donovan was just a breath away from the questionable activities of his campaign staff."
Roberti was referring to how, according to the indictment, Donovan chatted with an unidentified co-conspirator, known as CC-1, at Donovan's nominating convention in May. Moments later, federal authorities said, CC-1 was led to a back room where he delivered a $10,000 payment in the form of three $2,500 conduit contributions to Donovan's campaign and one $2,500 contribution to the state Democratic Party.
Donovan has said he didn't know about any scheme but could not comment in detail because of the ongoing investigation.
Gabe Rosenberg, Donovan's campaign communications director, said Thursday, "It's disappointing, but not surprising, that some would choose to once again play politics with a serious matter."
He contends that nothing in Braddock's indictment is inconsistent with the findings from an investigation conducted by former U.S. Attorney Stanley Twardy, who was hired by the campaign to conduct the probe. Twardy said he and his team found no evidence that Donovan had any involvement in or knowledge of an alleged campaign financing scheme after reviewing tens of thousands of pages of emails and text messages, and interviewing Donovan and 12 past and current campaign workers. Twardy said lawyers did not allow him to interview three fired campaigns staffers, including Braddock, and a legislative aide.
"Chris is continuing his conversation with the voters of the district on the issues that matter to them," Rosenberg said.
Braddock, a newcomer to Connecticut politics, is free on a $100,000 bond. Jury selection is to begin Sept. 5.
He stood next to his attorney, Frank Riccio II, outside court, but said nothing to reporters. When asked how Braddock was doing, Riccio said that he and his client were working well together.
"We will continue to prepare as if there will be a trial," Riccio said. "We'll see what the future brings."
Donovan, Roberti and former state Rep. Elizabeth Esty are vying for the Democratic nomination. State Sen. Andrew Roraback is the Republicans' endorsed candidate, but he also faces a primary challenge from Mark Greenberg, Lisa Wilson-Foley and Justin Bernier.
The general election winner will fill the seat that's being vacated by Democratic U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy, who is running for the U.S. Senate.