Ex-Conn. Gov. Rowland's Aide Pleads Guilty

A state contractor and a top aide to former Gov. John G. Rowland (search) each pleaded guilty to two felonies Tuesday, ending a public corruption case that led to Rowland's resignation and imprisonment.

Contractor William Tomasso and Peter Ellef (search), who was Rowland's co-chief of staff, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit tax fraud and bribery before U.S. District Judge Peter C. Dorsey.

Each charge carries a maximum of five years in prison. Ellef said in court that prosecutors will drop charges against his son, Peter Ellef II (search), whose landscaping business landed contracts worth at least $2 million from Tomasso companies.

Sentencing for Tomasso and the elder Ellef is set for Jan. 13.

Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said Tuesday the agreement will also end the state's civil investigation. Ellef and Tomasso are expected to pay back a total of $1 million.

Rowland, 48, is serving a one-year federal prison term on a corruption charge stemming from the same investigation.

Prosecutors had accused Ellef and Tomasso of running a criminal enterprise out of the governor's office, with the elder Ellef steering multimillion-dollar contracts to Tomasso in exchange for gold, cash, travel and other expensive gifts.

"The fairness, openness and integrity of the process in Connecticut was compromised," Assistant U.S. Attorney Nora Dannehy said in court.

The deal, reached just one week before jury selection in their racketeering case was to begin, heads off a trial that was expected to last for months.

Prosecutors had planned a parade of witnesses — including several former state employees — for a trial that was expected to expose the underbelly of Rowland's administration, from buried gold to limousine trips to bottles of Dom Perignon.

"The only good thing in all of this is that it's over," said Gov. M. Jodi Rell, in a statement released late Monday night.

Rell served as Rowland's lieutenant governor and took office when Rowland resigned last year. She has denied knowing anything about corruption in the administration and is running for election largely on her record of trying to clean up contracting and campaign finance laws.

"This sad and unfortunate chapter in Connecticut history is closed," Rell said. "I feel for the families of those involved and I hope that they and the people of Connecticut can now move forward."

Once one of Connecticut's most popular political figures, Rowland resigned in July 2004 after nine years in office and pleaded guilty last December to a corruption charge. He began serving his prison sentence in April and is scheduled to be released in February.

Tomasso is accused of giving the elder Ellef more than $1 million in bribes. In return, Ellef allegedly helped steer tens of millions of dollars in contracts to Tomasso and his companies.

Longtime friends, Ellef and Tomasso have maintained the gifts were not bribes. And though federal prosecutors pushed hard to get them to accept plea deals more than a year ago, they would not, with Keefe publicly announcing that Ellef would not deal.

The investigation has been going on for more than two years. It was made public in 2003 when Rowland's former deputy chief of staff, Lawrence Alibozek, pleaded guilty to accepting bribes of cash, gold and other gifts in exchange for steering contracts. Investigators found gold buried in Alibozek's backyard.