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Thursday, December 13 Local

Judge vacates Newton’s campaign fraud conviction

A judge on Wednesday vacated Ernie Newton's 2015 conviction for campaign finance fraud, according to the Hartford Courant.

The judge’s action to vacate the sentence was expected.

On Oct. 12, the state Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision, ordered a new trial for Newton.

Newton’s current legal troubles originated with his failed attempt in 2012 to return to the state Legislature. Newton’s campaign at that time was collecting the small contributions needed for him to qualify for $80,550 from Connecticut’s so-called clean elections public campaign grants program.

He was accused of submitting five contribution cards of $100 a piece to meet the grant program’s threshold that were signed by five people who had not actually given that money.

As explained the Supreme Court ruling, faced in 2012 with a $490 shortfall, Newton’s campaign suddenly received $500 and “either on his own or through the assistance of another, (Newton) had approached the five signors and instructed them to sign the ($100 contribution) cards (and) assured them that they would not be required to donate money to the campaign.”

Newton is charged with first-degree larceny and campaign finance fraud. The state accuses Newton, 62, of having five campaign workers sign contribution forms saying they each gave $100 to his senate campaign in 2012, although they did not actually donate any money. The aim, the state claims, was to reach a $15,000 threshold necessary for the campaign to qualify for $85,550 in matching funds through the state's public financing program.

On Jan. 16, 2015, a jury found Newton guilty of three of the charges and acquitted him of witness tampering. Jurors were unable to reach a verdict on the remaining charges.

Newton’s attorneys appealed to the Supreme Court and argued, according to the justices’ ruling, that the trial court “improperly failed to instruct the jury that, in order to find him guilty of an illegal campaign financing practice, it must find that he (Newton) acted with the specific intent to violate” campaign financing laws by making a payment to a campaign in another person’s name.

The Supreme Court concluded, “it was reasonably possible that the jury was misled ... and the defendant was entitled to a new trial.”

Newton is represented by public defender Joseph Stawicki.

The Courant reported Stawicki met Wednesday with prosecutor Kevin Shay and Hartford Superior Court Judge Laura F. Baldini before entering Newton’s not guilty plea during the hearing.

Stawicki said he is working to resolve the case short of trial.

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