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Will Lamont's State Pier and budget office scandals collide?

Who could have known, back in February 2020, soon after Gov. Ned Lamont's deputy budget chief was put in charge of the scandal-plagued, cost-spiraling project to transform State Pier in New London, that a fresh new scandal would engulf the pier construction czar at the end of 2021?

Thanks to excellent reporting by Hartford Courant columnist Kevin Rennie, we now know that Konstantinos Diamantis, deputy budget director, was associated with his daughter getting a plum $99,000-a-year executive assistant job, personally hired by the state's top prosecutor, Richard Colangelo, who met her at a party also attended by her father.

And, oh yes, we know from Rennie's reporting, Colangelo had been lobbying Diamantis and his budget office for pay raises for prosecutors just before the lead prosecutor decided he needed to hire Diamantis' daughter.

It's always sticky business when the state's leading prosecutor is implicated in a scandal.

I don't know about anyone else, but I don't feel so confident in the governor's solution: hiring outside lawyers to investigate. I see a more likely sweeping of ethical failures under the rug than the uncovering of wrongdoing.

After all, this is the governor whose minions offered hush money to keep a critical former employee from the Connecticut Port Authority from going to the news media, as a cascade of revelations about hiring friends, skirting bid procedures and a total lack of proper accounting procedures engulfed the quasi-public agency.

Lamont is also the governor who pulled the plug on funding for a state agency as it was trying to investigate alleged irregularities in contract awards by the port authority.

The governor's hand-picked chairman of the port authority once balked at providing information to state auditors investigating a whistleblower complaint about a $500,000 success fee paid to the company of a former port authority board member.

The Lamont administration has gotten very experienced in screwing lids on pots of simmering scandal. Indeed, the governor's new top lawyer, Nora Dannehy, a former prosecutor, knows her way around a corruption scandal. It is interesting that the governor would choose a chief lawyer with a background in corruption investigations.

Lamont has never explained the "personnel issues" that led to his decision to place Diamantis on paid leave. Diamantis retired instead of accepting the suspension.

We only know of the irregular hiring of his daughter to a plum job because of independent reporting. We have no idea what specific allegations led the governor to suspend the budget deputy chief, who was managing a vast amount of money for school construction projects before being put in charge of the massive State Pier project in New London, which experienced spiraling costs under his watch.

It's hard to imagine the only allegation against Diamantis warranting an investigation by expensive, high-octane lawyers is his daughter's securing a cushy state job. By  that standard, much of the Hartford power hierarchy might be under investigation.

We know from reporting by Mark Pazniokas of the CT Mirror that Diamantis' daughter worked for a time for a company that had a large no-bid schools contract with the state, one overseen by her father.

She curiously omitted the construction job, with its potential for problematic conflict with her father's job, on the resume she submitted for the job with the prosecutor's office.

It will be hard to disguise the odor of corruption around the Lamont administration that seems to be growing stronger as we head into an election season.

It is interesting now to watch a video, still on YouTube, of the news conference Feb. 11, 2020, in which Lamont and Diamantis expressed confidence in what was then a $157 million projected cost of the State Pier remake — an enormous increase from the original $93 million estimate.

Diamantis had ".... gone over these numbers real tight," Lamont said then, giving a big salute to his trusted deputy budget chief.

The estimate later skyrocketed to $235 million, before Diamantis was pushed out the door.

The port authority said recently it is confident about the price holding.

I don't have much faith in those assurances, any more than I did in the ones for a much lower number Lamont and Diamantis insisted nearly two years ago was final.

And I can't help but wonder how the scandals at the port authority and budget office might finally connect, given the common cast of characters, and how tightly Lamont will be able to keep the pot lids screwed on.

This is the opinion of David Collins.


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