NEW HAVEN, Conn. -- A state contractor and a top aide to imprisoned former governor John G. Rowland pleaded guilty to public corruption charges yesterday, culminating an investigation that dominated Connecticut politics and led to the onetime political star's downfall.
Peter N. Ellef, who was Rowland's co-chief of staff, admitted rigging a vote to award a $57 million construction deal to contractor William Tomasso. In return, Tomasso plied Ellef and his deputy with cash, gold coins, limousine trips, and expensive meals.
''The fairness, openness, and integrity of the contracting process in Connecticut was compromised," Assistant US Attorney Nora Dannehy said in court.
Both men pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit tax fraud and bribery, with Tomasso, 40, admitting that he disguised the bribes as business expenses and deducted them from his taxes. Ellef, 61, never declared any of his bribes as income.
The settlement requires that they pay $1 million restitution to Connecticut. The plea agreements suggest 2 1/2 to 4 years in prison for each. Defense attorneys are expected to argue for no more time than Rowland's yearlong sentence.
Once one of Connecticut's most popular political figures, Rowland resigned in July 2004, pleaded guilty to a corruption charge in December, and went to prison in April. US District Judge Peter C. Dorsey, who sentenced Rowland, also will sentence Ellef and Tomasso at a hearing scheduled Jan. 13.
The plea deal, reached a week before jury selection was to begin, headed off a racketeering trial that was expected to last months.
Ellef accepted a deal in which he pleaded guilty, and his son, Peter Ellef II, 34, had his racketeering case dropped. The younger Ellef's landscaping business made at least $2 million from Tomasso, and prosecutors said the business funneled money from Tomasso to the elder Ellef.
Ellef II will pay $62,000 in back taxes to resolve the case.
Tomasso's plea deal required him to admit that he bribed his way into both the contract to manage the Long Lane School for troubled girls and the $57 million contract to build the Connecticut Juvenile Training School in Middletown.
In exchange, his family's companies, Tomasso Brothers Inc. and Tunxis Management, probably will remain open. TBI was dropped from the case, and Tunxis pleaded guilty to tax fraud. Prosecutors say there's no evidence the company overbilled or did substandard work.
''The only good thing in all of this is that it's over," said Governor M. Jodi Rell, who served as Rowland's lieutenant governor and took office when Rowland resigned last year, in a statement released when news of the deal broke late Monday.
Dannehy said the guilty pleas yesterday represent the end of a four-year investigation. Asked whether others close to Rowland remain under scrutiny, she replied: ''There are pending investigations."