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Connecticut's corruption culture matures in the Lamont era

The corruption scandals that are unfolding in Connecticut are troubling in various ways, some of them even comical, if it all weren't so serious.

It turns out, for instance, that the state's chief prosecutor, the person we think ought to be in charge of getting to the bottom of corruption, has himself been the subject of a corruption investigation.

Yes, Chief State's Attorney Richard Colangelo Jr., was investigated for an alleged unethical hiring of the daughter of the state official he was lobbying to provide bigger raises for himself and fellow prosecutors.

Ok, so let's start with that, for evidence of Connecticut's crazy corruption culture, with a corruption investigation of the state's lead prosecutor.

And who began that investigation?

Well, oddly enough, this being crazy Connecticut, it was Gov. Ned Lamont himself, hiring a private lawyer, with public money, who produced an oral report to the governor, his client, and said its conclusions and recommendations are private lawyerly communications and not to be disclosed to the public.

The public, who paid for the corruption investigation of the state's top corruption investigator, doesn't get to see the final recommendations, just a report outlining the facts.

It also turns out Lamont's gubernatorial staff lawyer, Nora Dannehy, a former corruption prosecutor credited with putting former Gov. John Rowland behind bars, participated in the Lamont's private corruption investigation of the state's lead prosecutor.

Surely Lamont is the only governor with a corruption manager on the payroll.

Then they weaponized their publicly financed private corruption investigation, using it as a news distraction for the even larger breaking news of a federal investigation into hundreds of millions of dollars in state spending by the Lamont administration.

Who among us would be naïve enough to suggest that the timing of Lamont's release of embarrassing facts from his own private investigation of the lead state prosecutor was not released on a politically motivated timetable, to confuse and draw attention away from fresh reports of the federal corruption investigation of his own administration and its biggest spending budgets.

There's another weird twist, which is even more head-spinning, and that is the marriage of Lamont attorney Dannehy to Leonard Boyle, the interim U.S. attorney for Connecticut.

The Boyle/Dannehy household has people in both camps, one in the Lamont administration, whose spending on school construction and the State Pier in New London is under investigation by a federal grand jury, and another leading the federal prosecutor's office pursuing that investigation.

I have to say, the stench of it all is powerful.

Lamont, who has resisted Freedom of Information requests more doggedly than any politician I've ever encountered, issued a statement last week portraying his grand jury smokescreen as an act of transparency.

Gov. Lamont talking about the public's right to know strikes me a bit like the big bad wolf ruminating about saving little pigs, as he huffs and puffs.

Of course this is the Gov. Lamont, with a budget axe, who tried to tear down the house of the state spending watchdog agency, the Connecticut State Contracting Standards Board, created after his own corruption manager/lawyer put Rowland behind bars.

Despite Lamont's attempt to gut the watchdog agency, the hardworking volunteers on the board carried on and continued their important work of examining the contracts for the governor's pet spending project: a cost-spiraling $235 million remake of State Pier on behalf of two rich utilities, one foreign.

The board concluded, in a report issued last week, two days after news broke that the grand jury is investigating money spent on the pier, that the project may have been initiated unlawfully.

The project was identified in contracts and in public boasts from the governor himself as a public–private partnership with the utilities, which will pay a small share of the cost. It is being built entirely to the specifications of the private utilities.

But the Connecticut law allowing public–private partnerships lapsed before the deal was signed.

Pier critic Kevin Blacker took to heart the news last week that the contracting board believes the pier contract may be illegal and that a federal grand jury is investigating how the money is being spent.

Blacker headed to the pier Friday in a yellow vest and successfully stopped construction for about an hour with his protest in front of the heavy equipment. He told me he was looking for the emergency brake.

State police summoned an ambulance and told Blacker, he says, they were going to take him away for a psychiatric exam if he didn't stop protesting.

Funny, but it seems to me Blacker is the only sane person in all of this, as a grand jury probes spending that has climbed from $93 million to at least $223 million on a project that the state's procurement watchdogs say was probably begun with an illegal contract.

It seems insane to me that no one else wants at least a pause, as the corruption plume billows across Lamont's Connecticut.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

d.collins@theday.com

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