- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 24, 2015

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) - Former Republican congressional candidate Lisa Wilson-Foley was sentenced Tuesday to five months in prison for what prosecutors said was a scheme to hire former Gov. John Rowland as a key adviser to her campaign but hide his role because of his corruption conviction a decade ago.

Wilson-Foley apologized to anyone hurt by her actions and said if she had to do it all over again, she wouldn’t have run for Congress because of how difficult it is.

“I do take full responsibility for having that ship veer far off course,” she said during the hearing in U.S. District Court in New Haven. “I am deeply remorseful. … I know that this case has caused heartache for many, and I’m sorry.”

Wilson-Foley declined to comment on the prison sentence as she left the courthouse surrounded by supporters to shield her from the media.

Wilson-Foley and her husband, Brian Foley, both pleaded guilty to conspiring to make illegal campaign contributions, and Rowland was convicted by a jury. Prosecutors say the couple created a sham contract between Foley’s nursing home company and Rowland to hide the $35,000 they paid the former Republican governor for help on Wilson-Foley’s failed 2012 campaign for the 5th Congressional District seat.

Judge Janet Bond Arterton ordered Wilson-Foley to report to prison or to U.S. marshals on July 1 to begin her sentence. After prison, she must spend another five months in home confinement under electronic monitoring. Arterton also fined her $25,000 and ordered her to pay about $2,440 a month for the cost of her incarceration.

Rowland was sentenced last week to 2½ years in prison and is expected to appeal his convictions. Foley was sentenced in January to three years of probation.

Wilson-Foley’s attorneys argued that hiding the payments for Rowland’s work was a record-keeping violation that could have been handled in a civil enforcement by the Federal Election Commission. Rowland’s lawyers argued same thing and said the former governor did legitimate work for Foley’s company.

The payments originated with Foley and constituted campaign contributions but were not reported to the FEC, a violation of federal campaign finance laws, prosecutors said.

Wilson-Foley would go on to lose the 2012 Republican primary for the 5th District seat, now held by Democratic Rep. Elizabeth Esty.

Craig Raabe, Wilson-Foley’s lawyer, told the judge that his client had the least involvement in the conspiracy and shouldn’t be sent to prison. He also accused federal prosecutors of trumping up the allegations and reneging on an agreement not to prosecute Wilson-Foley in return for her cooperation, claims prosecutors strongly denied. Raabe also insisted that Rowland’s notoriety was the only reason there was a court case against his client.

Federal prosecutor Christopher Mattei said the case was important because transparency is vital to the integrity of the election system.

“This court’s sentence should absolutely send a message to other candidates … that if you try to cheat the voters … there’s a price to pay, regardless of all the good you have done in your life,” he said.

Supporters of Wilson-Foley, including her sister, testified Tuesday how she overcame adversity as a child, including her father’s mental illness and his death in his late 40s, and earned college degrees on her way to becoming a successful businesswoman and mentor who has given much back to the community.

Arterton said she was troubled that Wilson-Foley denied the allegations, after they went public, in interviews with the media. She said the scheme was a perfect example of what federal law was designed to prevent, and she dismissed the notion that Wilson-Foley’s role was minor.

“It seemed … that Miss Wilson-Foley wanted to have her cake and eat it,” the judge said. “She wanted to avail herself of Mr. Rowland’s expertise and guidance … but she wanted to conceal that role from public scrutiny for the inevitable criticism she would take.”

Rowland resigned as governor in 2004 amid the corruption scandal and later served 10 months in prison for taking illegal gifts, including improvements to his lakeside cottage.

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