Wire Me Up, Uncle Sammy


Just how badly do federal prosecutors want to prosecute Waterbury State's Attorney John Connelly? Pretty badly; the vision of Connelly in handcuffs haunts the heartless corridors of the New Haven office of the Justice Department. It's the sort of vision that makes FBI agents do crazy and unpredictable things. Things like making deals with the Devil's disciples. Consider the following, which I have confirmed from three sources.

Several months ago, a man facing bank robbery charges in the Judicial District of Waterbury was appointed a federal public defender. Although the man had no case pending against him in federal court, the feds wanted him as a witness in a pending federal investigation. If the accused bank robber would play ball with Uncle Sam, the government would help him out. The feds were willing to take his bank robbery cases on a condition: the man must plead guilty to federal charges, and later get a sweet deal at the time of sentencing; to get this deal he must wear a wire while speaking to a lawyer the feds believe was is in cahoots with Waterbury State's Attorney John Connelly. But to make this work, the state must decide to drop its charges.

(One of the great joys of federalism is that there is a mirror image federal crime for many state crimes: it is not a violation of double jeopardy for different governments to prosecute a man for the same conduct. Rob a bank, and offend two sovereigns. Just which one has the bigger er, um ... private spheres, is a matter of professional pride much disputed in law enforcement circles.)

The client, who is incarcerated, wore the wire and placed a call to Attorney Martin Minnella. A fee was discussed. The client's wife was supposed to deliver the fee in cash. She was going to wear a wire, too. It is a twisted plot, the sort of thing FBI agents druel about at Quantico, when they are taking classes in how to walk and talk like Eliot Ness.

So the would-be client pretends to be seeking counsel on the case in Waterbury and tries to get the target of the wire to talk about his relationship with Connelly. But something apparently goes wrong. The lawyer apparently doesn't take the bait the feds were offering. Alas and alack, this game of Spy versus Spy failed.

The feds are spending a fortune on a screwball theory that Waterbury Attorney Martin Minnella takes hefty fees from clients in exchange for a promise that he could work apparent miracles due to his relationship with his lifelong friend, Connelly. (Both men have known one another for more than fifty years, having survived, among other things, Little League Baseball together.)

This hapless accused bank robber was supposed to get a nice deal from Uncle Sam in exchange for helping build a case against a state prosecutor. But the feds could not perform their end of the deal. They wanted the state to drop its case so that the defendant could be offered a secret cooperation agreement in federal court. Bury Connelly and Minnella, and then get a glowing letter about cooperation to a federal judge. Hold the cooperation agreement proceeding in a judge's chambers, in secret, outside of public view. Pretend it never happened unless Minnella and/or Connelly go to trial. This sort of sordid secrecy is the very stuff of which federal prosecutions are made. It stinks.

So a couple of weeks ago, lawyers for the accused bank robber attended a closed door meeting with Judge Richard Damiani, Connelly and federal prosecutors. Someone raised the topic of whether Connelly would back off prosecution of the man. Tempers flared, voices were raised. Connelly told the feds he was not backing off, and asked why they persisted in the hope of nailing his hide to a federal cross. (The characterization is mine, not Connelly's.) Two prosecutors had a hissy fit; Connelly won this round; the federal prosecutor went home empty-handed and unable to fulfill his end of a promise made to a witness.

This is twisted stuff. Not only have the feds been banging doors all over central Connecticut, contacting many of Minnella's former clients to get the low down on what fees were paid and what promises were made, they've also spoken to current clients. Check the visitors' registry at several state prisons and you'll see the names of federal agents on the prowl for gossip and witnesses. But this latest suggests even greater desperation. The government is now trying to create witnesses by wiring up folks with pending charges and offering them, just what exactly?, to get Minnella to say something inculpatory about Connelly. Hell hath no fury like a Government frustrated, and unable to prove a hunch.

Waterbury is agog with rumors about who has been wired up and when. This latest suggests a whole new cast of potential characters.

I am far from impartial in this matter, as regular readers know. I have represented Minnella in this melodrama. I have also appeared regularly in the Waterbury courthouse for years. Nothing I observed there ever led me to believe Minnella or his clients caught a break from Connelly. To the contrary, when I have seen the two discussing cases in judicial chambers I have been uneasy about the tension between the men. I wonder if the feds had anyone wired up during those pre-trials? It seems like in Waterbury every wall has federal ears; even folks accused of a crime are wearing wires.


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© Norm Pattis is represented by Elite Lawyer Management, managing agents for Exceptional American Lawyers
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