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Connecticut's Gov. Rowland Steps Down

The Republican risked impeachment and is the subject of a federal corruption probe.

June 22, 2004|Elizabeth Mehren | Times Staff Writer

HARTFORD, Conn. — Gov. John G. Rowland resigned Monday in the face of a federal corruption investigation and proceedings in the Legislature that could have led to his impeachment.

The three-term Republican stepped down after admitting he lied about accepting gifts and favors from state contractors and a cadre of close friends. But Rowland, 47, has maintained that he granted no political favors in return. Included in the gifts to the governor was a $3,250 check from his secretary that she gave him to pay personal bills.

"I acknowledge that my poor judgment has brought us here," Rowland said Monday in a brief speech televised from the Governor's Residence.

With his wife, Patty, at his side, Rowland never used the word "resign," but said his "decision" was in the best interests of his family and the people of Connecticut.

Rowland made no mention of the scandal that began late last year with revelations that a new roof and a hot tub at his summer cottage had been paid for by political supporters.

"There comes a time in everyone's life when you realize it is time to take a new path," he said Monday. Rowland's resignation takes effect July 1; Republican Lt. Gov. Jodi M. Rell will serve out the remaining 2 1/2 years of his term.

Rowland was nicknamed the "boy wonder" of Connecticut politics when, fresh out of Villanova University, he won a seat in the heavily Democratic Legislature at age 23.

Four years later, he moved on to the U.S. Congress. At age 37, Rowland was elected governor after pledging to rescind a state income tax imposed by former Gov. Lowell P. Weicker Jr., an independent.

Despite failing to deliver on that promise, Rowland enjoyed enormous popularity in his home state and was well regarded on the national political stage. He was on hugging terms with President Bush, who called him "Johnny."

Rowland's troubles began near the end of his second term as governor, with a federal corruption investigation of two former top aides.

The probe centered on construction projects involving a prominent Connecticut contracting company, the Tomasso Group. Rowland hastily repaid the Tomassos for several vacation trips to properties owned by the family.

Lawrence Alibozek, Rowland's former deputy chief of staff, pleaded guilty in March 2003 to steering contracts toward the Tomassos. He remains the only person indicted by federal authorities in connection with the Rowland probe.

Last fall, Rowland sailed into a third term -- a rare accomplishment in Connecticut.

But just before Christmas, the Hartford Courant ran a story raising questions about the financing of renovations at Rowland's vacation home on Bantam Lake in the western part of the state.

Rowland immediately called a news conference to say he had paid for all the repairs himself, including a hot tub and kitchen cabinets he insisted were from Home Depot, not custom-made.

In a tearful public statement a few days later, the governor admitted that he had lied, but he insisted that he had not granted any favors in return for the gifts and financial assistance.

As Rowland's popularity began to slide, state legislators in January formed a bipartisan committee to determine whether his misdeeds merited impeachment. That investigation unearthed still more evidence against the governor.

"What we found out was that Gov. Rowland got tens of thousands of dollars in cash from at least one major state contractor," said state Rep. Mike Lawlor, a Democrat.

"And apparently at about the same time, he was making sure this particular individual got favorable treatment. It looks like there were a whole variety of corrupt relationships involving the governor and state employees."

Rowland's secretary, Kathleen Mengacci, told the committee that she lent the governor $3,250 when she found out he did not have enough money in his bank account to pay his bills. Rowland paid Mengacci back -- and nominated her husband, Joseph, for a judgeship.

Along with suggestions that he had traded favors with contractors and others, details of Rowland's private finances came out during the Capitol hearings. In each of his first two terms, Rowland earned $78,000 and paid $46,000 in alimony. Last year, his salary was raised to $150,000.

Legislative investigators also heard testimony about questionable real estate deals involving the governor -- including an apartment he sold in Washington, D.C., at well above market value.

State Rep. Raymond C. Kalinowski, a Republican, said the documents the committee examined "clearly showed a series of ethical lapses that go back over a long period."

The inquiry took its toll on Rowland's popularity among voters.

A Quinnipiac University poll released early in June showed that 69% of those surveyed thought Rowland should resign, and 57% said the state House should vote to impeach him.

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