NORWALK, Conn. – A political columnist for Connecticut’s most influential newspaper is calling for the head of state Rep. Larry Cafero, but the Norwalk-based minority leader says he is innocent of the allegations upon which the writer is basing his opinion.
The columnist, Kevin Rennie, of the Hartford Courant, says Cafero’s appearance in a covert FBI videotape in the just-concluded trial of Robert Braddock, a fundraiser for former Speaker of the House Christopher Donovan’s unsuccessful 2012 congressional campaign, has stunned his colleagues in the legislature. Cafero said that Rennie is expressing opinions as fact and that the columnist seems to be out to get him.
“He is borderline obsessed with me,” Cafero said Saturday. “Since Feb. 1, he has written 11 columns about me.”
The latest column, published May 21, is “totally incorrect,” Cafero said.
Braddock was found guilty on May 21 of multiple offenses stemming from a scheme to direct illegal contributions into Donovan’s campaign coffers. So-called political fixer Harry Raymond Soucy testified during the trial that he had put $5,000 in cash into Cafero’s office refrigerator, the Connecticut Mirror reports. A videotape of the incident was played in the trial, showing Cafero and Soucy together at the refrigerator.
Neither Cafero nor Donovan has been charged or accused by the government of being aware of the effort to bribe them.
Cafero said that March 14, 2012 meeting with Soucy was portrayed to him as a half hour meet and greet – there was no legislation pending at the time, he said. Soucy offered to make a donation to a political action committee but was told that couldn’t be done on state property, Cafero said. He offered Soucy a drink and wound up “looking at him like he was nuts” as Soucy tried to give him an envelope at the refrigerator, Cafero said. Cafero refused it and sent him out with a staff member, he said.
Cafero said the staff member called him right away and said there was cash in the envelope. “I said, ‘Please turn right around, return it,’” Cafero said.
Soucy was told the correct ways to submit a donation and followed those instructions after that, he said.
Rennie’s column says that Cafero took the money in cash before asking for it to be donated by check, which indicated that he knew it was “dirty.” His phrasing includes that Cafero “feigned surprise,” played a “sordid role” in a scheme and is “grimy and dishonest.”
“The scandal claimed Donovan’s career in politics, sinking his campaign for the Democratic nomination in the 5th Congressional District,” Rennie writes. “If Republicans stand for anything, the scandal must also mark the end of House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero’s long tenure in the House.”
Rennie, a former Republican state legislator, said in a phone call that members of the House Republican caucus are embarrassed.
“I think they were stunned at what the trial revealed about the $5,000, which members were not told to their great embarrassment until the trial took place,” he said. “You don’t want to be learning ugly facts about the leader of your party during a trial. You certainly don’t want to see the leader of your caucus played on a video in a federal criminal trial.”
State Rep. Gail Lavielle (R-Wilton) did not return an e-mail asking for comment.
Rennie has since written a blog post saying that a politician who is given cash should call the police.
Rennie mentioned that in the phone call as well. “Anyone who has been in politics for very long, and he has been in it for a long long time, know what that means,” he said. “The cash was accepted by him and his people. It doesn’t require a wire tap (to know that).
Cafero said he did not know about a videotape until it appeared during the trial. “I was relieved because I think I was vindicated by the tape,” he said.
Rennie and others “might want to draw conclusion from that with the benefit of hindsight,” but “I am very proud of my staff, I’m proud of myself, we followed all the protocols, we did the right thing,” Cafero said.
Cafero said he has gotten thousands of emails, texts and phone calls of support, the fruit of his 28 years in public office.
“I am sure there are a lot of people who disagree with me on various positions. ” he said, “but no one ever said I ever did anything to compromise my integrity or the integrity of the organization of which I am part of.”
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