Thursday, March 31, 2005

The Outrage that should have been acted on back in 1997

"The Godfather"- The State Posted by Hello

The Corruption Connecticut isn't just Connecticut, but the path can be followed up on for the national web of deceit.

Character Trouble continued

We may soon find out.

Rumors abound at the Capitol that Rowland himself received more surplus military equipment than has been publicly accounted for, an accusation that Department of Public Safety Commissioner Kenneth Kirschner denies.

While New Haven State's Attorney Michael Dearington says no prosecutable offenses were committed by the governor, more information may be forthcoming. New Haven civil rights lawyer John Williams, who is D'Angelo's attorney, says that Kirschner, as head of the state police force, knew what D'Angelo was up to. Williams says Kirschner knew D'Angelo gave the meat grinder to his neighbor and did nothing to stop D'Angelo. More importantly, Williams says some of D'Angelo's superiors also told D'Angelo to give their friends various pieces of equipment from the federal stockpile.

Williams claims his client is a fall guy, an unknowing patsy who has done nothing wrong. He says D'Angelo, who claims to have worked for Kirschner as a "gofer," is twisting in the wind because he is caught in the middle of feuding factions within the ranks of the state police force. Some cops want to embarrass Rowland, says Williams; others want to protect him.

Rowland, for his part, insists that he didn't know anything about D'Angelo's alleged abuse of the Section 1033 program or the fact that his kids had taken some of the surplus goods until after the deeds had been done. But Rowland's story about picking up the goods is full of holes. In one case, he says he went to pick up his kids at the Meriden garage where D'Angelo worked.

There he planned to meet up with Susan C. Lajoie, a deputy commissioner at the Department of Environmental Protection and Rowland appointee who was babysitting Rowland's two sons and his daughter. Lajoie is also a friend of D'Angelo's.

The kids got into Rowland's car with the equipment in bags, Rowland has said. It's unclear whether D'Angelo was there that day, how Lajoie gained entry to the garage or whether at any time Rowland dealt directly with D'Angelo.

In another version, Rowland says he just swung by the Meriden storage facility to check on his kids. The sleeping bags made their way back home without Rowland's help.

There will be no further accounting called for by state police; Kirschner says Rowland's answers are good enough for him.

But the governor's connection to the Section 1033 business has already become more intriguing than the saga of how D'Angelo operated. State police sources say it was D'Angelo's mention of Rowland and the fear that D'Angelo had kept records and would name names if prosecuted that led state police to drag out their investigation for six months.

Indeed, the arrest warrant shows that investigators had already seized a handgun from D'Angelo's kitchen table that was obtained through one of his backroom deals in January.

Rowland's ethically compromised behavior as governor began long before the Northstar controversy started making headlines several months ago.

The first instance came on the campaign trail for governor in 1994. The Hartford Courant tried to get a report released from the Middlebury Police Department relating to a domestic incident on April 10, 1994 at the home of his ex-wife Deborah.

The report, according to Middlebury Police Chief Patrick J. Bona, contained an uncorroborated allegation of a crime and therefore did not have to be released.

The Courant's attempt to make the report public was thwarted by Bona and others, many of whom have since been amply rewarded with state jobs and appointments.

Shortly after Rowland's election, James Smith, the Middlebury attorney who argued the town's case to keep the report secret, was appointed state claims commissioner, a $70,000-a-year post.

Smith's Middlebury law firm contributed $2,789 to Rowland's bid for governor in 1994. Carmody & Torrance, the Waterbury-based law firm of Jim Robertson, Rowland's personal attorney in the Middlebury police case, has received a hefty chunk of state work from the quasi-public Connecticut Development Agency.

In fact, Rowland has raised political patronage to an art form. Andy Thibault, one-time editor of The Torrington Register-Citizen and Rowland backer who wrote editorials favoring candidate Rowland during the 1994 campaign, was appointed to the Freedom of Information Commission after the election.

So too was Frederick E. Hennick, the former publisher of the Naugatuck Daily News. Hennick contributed $300 to Rowland's campaign and subsequently voted against having the FOI Commission appeal the state Superior Court's decision to keep the police report under lock and key.

"He's reinvented patronage," says Edward Marcus, state Democratic Central Committee chairman, whose law firm has been removed from the CDA's list of vendors under the Rowland administration.

"What grates at me is the arrogance of it all. He's beyond the law and beyond the restrictions of most people. He's made the operation of government his private province."

One of the most controversial examples of this political back scratching within state government has been Rowland's use of durational project managers -- temporary posts that are designed to be short-term appointments -- to increase the number of allies he has in state government.

Durational project managers have been used extensively by former governors such as Rowland's predecessor, Lowell P. Weicker Jr. But while Weicker appointed some 40 durational managers, Rowland currently has 144. At least three dozen of them are politically tied to Rowland, the Republican party or a major Republican officeholder in the state.

For example, Mark Brennan, a political backer of Rowland from Waterbury, was a key legislative liaison in the governor's office until late 1995, when he became a $69,500 durational project manager at the Department of Mental Health. Brennan's father, Francis Brennan, has had a similar job with the state military department.

Many of Rowland's political contributors, such as Whit Betts of Bristol, have been given lucrative state jobs at various points during Rowland's term for their support. After giving Rowland $1,000 toward his run for governor, Betts was given a $40,000-a-year job as a liaison between the Department of Agriculture and the community. His mission was to promote the "CT Grown" food program with small businesses and farmers.

Yet another Rowland campaign supporter, Vito Santarsiero, listed in campaign records as a worker for Brunele Construction in Waterbury, was awarded a $37,500 job at the state Department of Environmental Protection. As an executive assistant to DEP Deputy Commissioner Susan Lajoie, Santarsiero was responsible for monitoring the use of the surplus military equipment.

Despite the time limits required for durational project managers, several have served for nearly Rowland's entire term. State auditors last year chided the governor for moving a number of durational project managers from department to department in an effort to "circumvent the requirements of the state personnel act," since the positions do not require civil service tests or any kind of qualifications check. Recently, the Senate passed a bill to change that, limiting the number of durational project managers to one-fourth of one percent of the total number of state employees and mandating that they meet basic employment criteria for the jobs.

While not illegal, Rowland's use of durational project managers sends a disturbing message to those who work their way up through the civil service system: At any time, they may be passed over by, for example, a childhood playmate of the governor's.

Other political favorites of Rowland's have also had their lots bettered by the governor. Kathy Mengacci, a longtime friend of Rowland's, was given a job in his office. Her husband, Joseph Mengacci, another Rowland chum, is an attorney in the Waterbury law firm of Drubner, Hartley, O'Connor and Mengacci, which contributed more than $9,000 to Rowland's 1994 campaign.

In addition, Joseph Mengacci is part of a community board in Waterbury charged with handling $17 million in state money earmarked for downtown redevelopment. Another Rowland supporter and contributor, Ken Pocius, an attorney at Carmody & Torrance and vice chairman of the Greater Waterbury Chamber of Commerce, also sits on the same board.

The firm of KPMG Peat Marwick, another campaign contributor, was hired by the Naugatuck Valley Development Corp. to research various development options for the Brass City.

Other recipients of Rowland's largesse include Gregg P. "Rock" Regan, the governor's boyhood playmate, who as a durational project manager, has been engineering Rowland's proposal to privatize the contract for maintaining the state's computer system, an estimated $1 billion contract. Reagan's background? He was an engineer at Sikorsky Aircraft.

"He [Rowland] is a throwback to the days of Tammany Hall," Marcus says. "This is not a fraternity or a club he's a head of. He's reinvented patronage. Something like this only becomes significant (to the public) with its cumulative effect."

Not so, says Pagani.

"It's not as if the entire state government is stacked with political appointees. There are some, of course, because that's how government works. You need people assisting your top appointees to push your agenda through. Many of the people who are making these accusations are Democrats who are in the Legislature. Before they throw stones at the governor, they should look at their own house."

Questions about Rowland's treatment of his pals and supporters has only grown in recent months. Earlier this year, the Courant reported that the Rowland administration treated a Waterbury chemical manufacturer, MacDermid Inc., with unusual passivity after a 1994 chemical spill killed nearly 12,000 fish in the Naugatuck River. According to the Courant report, MacDermid dumped chemicals in the Naugatuck on Nov. 9, 1994, only hours after Rowland was elected. MacDermid's president, Daniel H. Leever, contributed $2,500 to Rowland's 1994 election campaign. Terrace Copeland, a vice president at MacDermid, contributed $250. MacDermid had a track record as a despoiler of the environment before Rowland came along.

The Courant reported that the company had paid the state $306,000 in penalties in 1993 to settle lawsuits involving hazardous waste and cleanup violations.

Because of its past record, the company could have paid fines up to $25,000 a day if it violated DEP rules again. The Courant's review of other cases involving MacDermid showed un-usually indulgent enforcement by the Rowland administration when compared with other water polluters.

Rejecting his department's own enforcement remedy, DEP Commissioner Sidney J. Holbrook allowed the company to pay a $70,000 fine into a DEP account to benefit the river. Who negotiated the settlement? Carmody & Torrance partner Jim Robertson, Rowland's personal attorney who served him so well in the Middlebury FOI case.

"There was no one in the governor's office directly involved," Pagani says.

"It was something that was happening at the DEP. He [the governor] has tried to institute a policy at the DEP where the commissioner has tried to work with people in terms of violations. The goal is to impose a penality if it is necessary, but also work with the company to correct the problem and make sure it doesn't happen again."

Public records show that other political contributors to Rowland's campaign, such as Fairfield-based wire-maker Jelliff Corp., Uniroyal Chemical Co. of Naugatuck and Connecticut Light & Power, based in Berlin, have been fined by the DEP for violating environmental laws.

Donald S. Strait, executive director of the Connecticut Fund for the Environment, points out that the Rowland administration's toleration of MacDermid and other polluters sends a message to other companies that is all right to pollute. Even if they are caught, Strait says, the fines are often negligible. In addition, Strait says, DEP referrals to the Attorney General's office for prosecution dropped 75 percent in the first year of Rowland's administration.

"It is no secret that the current administration has worked to create a user-friendly climate at the DEP," says Strait. "

At the beginning of the current administration...a clear message was sent to companies and DEP staff that the department would emphasize asking polluters to comply with the law. Many polluters probably believe that they stand only a slim chance of substantial penalties for violating our environmental laws."

Rowland has the dubious distinction of being the first governor in Connecticut history to be fined by the State Ethics Commission for accepting free tickets to a number or concerts at the Meadows Music Theatre. The tickets were provided by a lobbyist for the Meadows, Democrat James Sandler. Although the commission says there was no evidence of a quid pro quo for the tickets, the violations are significant.

The governor attended six Meadows concerts in 1995 and 1996 with tickets paid for by other people, including William Dunn, a longtime Rowland friend who works for KPMG Peat Marwick, an accounting firm which has received some of the state's business while Rowland has been in office. The governor's explanation underscores the lack of seriousness the governor attached to the commission's findings and the general principle of ethics.

"I think the average person will say, 'What's the big deal if he went to a concert with some of his friends?'"

Going to a concert with pals is clearly not a big deal. It's the appearance of taking money for political favors and a pattern of self-indulgence that suggest Rowland's ethical barometer is not calibrated to the same standards as everyone else's.

The list of the ethical lapses by Rowland and his administration seems endless. Last year, the Legislature approved a bill that banned the heads of state agencies and their immediate families from entering into business contracts with other agencies. The legislation stemmed from the state Department of Economic Development's decision to award a $292,000 printing contract to a company owned by Arthur H. Diedrick, the owner of Connecticut Magazine, who was then the agency's acting commissioner.

Still, even his political adversaries are loath to criticize him on ethics.

"My main beef with the governor is on policy stuff," says Rep. Michael Lawlor (D-East Haven).

"The ethical things that come up from time to time don't anger me. Generally speaking, he just doesn't appear to take government too seriously."

Even Senate Democratic leaders like George Jepsen of Stamford and Kevin Sullivan of West Hartford bit their tongues when asked about Rowland's character.

It is ironic that Rowland should flaunt public standards of ethics so casually and thoughtlessly.

After all, his own grandfather helped root out municipal corruption many decades ago in the Brass City. Perhaps at 40 years of age, Rowland has achieved too much too soon. And perhaps his immaturity and fraternity-boy attitude towards state government is having more of an impact on Connecticut than voters like to think.

If Trooper D'Angelo's attorney John Williams has his way, Rowland will pay some sort of price for his role in the military surplus scandal.

"For (prosecutor) Mike Dearington to sign off on this says to me that he wants to try this case. There will be no settlement. I guess it's all going to come out at trial," Williams says.

Williams adds that if D'Angelo committed a crime, then those who received the goods, including Rowland, should also be prosecuted for accepting the gifts. Receiving stolen goods, Williams says, is simply against the law. Williams will seek to have the charges against D'Angelo dismissed on the grounds of selective prosecution.

"Those guys knew where this stuff came from. If (D'Angelo)'s guilty, then the others are guilty."

D'Angelo has reportedly drawn up a list of officials who received the surplus gear, names Williams promises will come out in due course. Williams says he plans to call Rowland and Kirschner to the witness stand when D'Angelo's case goes to trial to testify about what they really knew about what D'Angelo was doing.

As always, Rowland's supporters will be there to protect the governor. The first hint came last week from Public Safety Commissioner Kirschner.

"This has nothing to do with his political affiliations and his friendships," Kirschner says.

As for the black eye his department has received over D'Angelo's alleged actions, Kirschner believes "the public confidence will be restored."

Whether the same will be said of Rowland, if the drumbeat of cronyism, petty scandal and ethical obtuseness that has accompanied his term in office continues, is up in the air.

The Hartford Advocate link to the above 1997 piece


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