Experienced criminal defense lawyers and even judges know a simple truth: Ask the wrong questions, and the truth will slip through your fingers. Sometimes it is all about plausible deniability, a truth parsed so finely that the difference between fact and fiction becomes indistinguishable. That's what happened in a Waterbury courtroom yesterday. And The Hartford Courant's Ed Mahoney swallowed the farce, hook, line and sinker. Score one for fantasyland.
The Courant reports this morning that Judge Richard Damiani rejected a bid by Michael Seifert, a 60-year-old man accused of multiple bank robberies, to disqualify State's Attorney John Connelly and his office. Why? Connelly is said to be vindictive because Seifert has been cooperating in an investigation of Connelly and Waterbury's Martin Minnella, a long-time criminal defense attorney. (I represent Minnella.) Seifert wants the state to drop his charges so that the federal government can charge him for the same crimes -- same offense, different sovereigns. Once that happens, Seifert can benefit from his cooperation with the Government: If convicted in state court of these offenses he will most likely die behind bars; a lesser sentence is foreseeable in the federal system. Seifert has good grounds for question whether Connelly has more than a mere zeal that justice be done in this matter.
So Seifert's attorney, Michael Moskowitz, called Connelly to the witness stand yesterday. Connelly denied knowing anything about being the target of federal corruption investigation, or being told of being a target by anyone.
This may be true, but it is a truth that rings a little hollow to experienced ears.
Connelly's lawyer, Hugh Keefe, has told the press again and again that Connelly is not the target of an investigation. Keefe is a talented guy, but when he barks, watch your wallet. Translated into the arcane speech of criminal defense lawyers, here is what the barking signifies: Connelly did not get a target letter from federal prosecutors informing him that he is the target of an investigation. Target letters are not routinely sent when a federal investigation takes place. When they are sent, they are usually invitations to deal with the feds. If Connelly hasn't received an invitation to deal, that is perhaps because the feds don't want to talk to him unless he is wearing handcuffs. The lack of a target letter does not mean you are not a target. Keefe knows this; Connelly, a greenhorn in the world of federal prosecution, may not.
We've made no secret of the fact that Minnella did receive a target letter this past Summer. The letter raised questions about a discrete tax issue, flagged when the feds launched an investigation of an accountant Minnella and a couple of hundred other people relied on. The feds raised questions about pension contributions. After one meeting, those questions were put to bed. There was no fraud. That issue is now a dead letter, we have been told.
But the feds did want to talk about Connelly. They wanted Minnella to wear a wire and talk to Connelly. We rejected that offer, and have not cut any deals of any sort with the federal government. But it was clear then that feds had an interest in Connelly. Since rejecting that offer, Minnella has been subject to intimidation. Agents have talked to friends, neighbors, clients and associates for the past six months. Recently overtures were once again made about talking to the feds about Connelly. No deal.
Federal investigators have also spoken to people in Connelly's office. As recently as last week, federal agents asked a few prosecutors to step outside the office for a little chat. And the feds have taken many files from the state's attorney's office. They have one or more witnesses subpoenaed to testify before a grand jury looking at doings in Waterbury on Tuesday. The feds also have subpoenaed a man who once received a slap on the wrist from Connelly after pleading guilty to stabbing a man in the chest. These are not new revelations.
What's more, Connelly has recused himself from any involvement in cases involving Minnella. Why? The pending federal investigation of the two men. It is difficult to comprehend how the conflict that requires this now vanishes in the case of Mr. Seifert. Why are claims of conflict real as regards one class of cases, and not another. The underlying investigation is the same. Alice in Wonderland has been sprinkling fairy dust or some such around the Waterbury courthouse.
The fact of the matter is that the federal investigation of the Waterbury courthouse is proceeding without target letters directed either to Minnella for his conduct as a lawyer or, apparently, to Connelly. Thus, while it is true to say that neither man has been targeted in this formal manner, it is simply naive to conclude that neither is a target. The feds are aiming at both. Call them focuses. Would Connelly deny that he is aware of being a focus of a federal inquiry?
The politics of truth-telling were on display in Waterbury last week, and the truth, understood as fidelity to what is occurring in the world, lost. Even the Hartford Courant either was duped, or chose to look the other way. The Courant's piece this morning read like a press release for Connelly. The Courant failed inexplicably to report on the testimony of Maureen O'Gara, who testified that she and her son were interviewed twice by the feds last summer about Connelly. She informed Connelly about this. How did the Courant miss this? The Waterbury Republican reported this testimony, referring to her euphemistically as a "close friend" of Connelly's. Did both reporters attend the same event?
Judge Damiani denied the motion to recuse Connelly. In doing so, the judge rejected "desperate acts by a desperate man." Those words could easily describe Connelly's testimony. If he doesn't think the federal government is looking at him, he is living in a dream world. Let's see if the feds issue a wake up call after this week's session of the grand jury, scheduled to sit December 21.