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    Wednesday, February 28, 2024

    OPINION: Court case in suspicious death in Lamont scandals is sealed

    The entrance to the Old Lyme property of late state schools’ construction administrator Michael Sanders includes signs to keep out and a warning the owner keeps firearms. Photo by David Collins.

    It is certainly alarming that a key figure in the state school construction program died under “suspicious” circumstances, from an apparent drug overdose, not long after subpoenas in the wide-ranging federal criminal probe of the schools program were issued.

    Michael Sanders, 53, of Old Lyme, who worked directly for Kosta Diamantis, Gov. Lamont’s deputy budget chief and head of the school program under FBI scrutiny, died in the driveway of an Old Saybrook McMansion on the night of Dec. 17, 2021, after a medic’s attempt to revive him was unsuccessful.

    Old Saybrook police said at the time that Sander’s untimely death was suspicious and they said more charges might be forthcoming, after they charged the owner of the mansion, John Lambe, 41, with two counts of risk of injury to a minor and possession of cocaine. Narcotics, a vehicle and a handgun were seized as evidence.

    The medical examiner subsequently ruled Sanders’ death was accidental, due to alcohol and drug overdose.

    What is really alarming is that is this is the dead end of what we know, after all this time, about an untimely death from drugs that police said was suspicious. And the deceased person is a key figure in a criminal probe involving tens of millions of dollars in public money.

    Lambe’s pending case in Superior Court has been sealed.

    A spokeswoman for the Judicial Department this week said she could not comment on the sealing of the case because, well, it’s sealed.

    It’s hard to imagine it’s sealed because Lambe was granted accelerated rehabilitation, meant to accommodate first-time offenders of minor crimes.

    I see from newspaper police logs that Lambe previously had a DWI arrest. And then of course he was arrested this time after police said someone died in his driveway under suspicious circumstances and they seized a weapon and drugs.

    Sanders’ death seems even more troubling this week, with his old boss, Diamantis, publicly blaming him, in comments in the Connecticut Mirror, for New London’s failure to use competitive bidding in a major schools construction project.

    Of course Sanders is not around to defend himself. And we don’t know a lot about the circumstances of his suspicious death.

    I know Democrats who run the legislature are afraid and always prepared to protect Gov. Ned Lamont. But, really, they ought to get to the bottom of this and help the public find out what’s going on.

    How can Connecticut tolerate a closed, secret criminal court system?

    We don’t even know whether police did in fact pursue more charges, as they said they might, the night Lambe was first taken into custody.

    What makes it all even more frustrating is that the schools program administrator died suspiciously in a town with a police chief and, I learned this week, a first selectman, who seem to have very little respect for the state’s Freedom of Information laws.

    I was told when I went to the Old Saybrook police station to get a copy of the Lambe arrest log and report, certainly public documents, that only Chief Michael Spera can respond to Freedom of Information requests like the one I made. They said he is on vacation this week and no one else could help.

    I have been doing this a very long time. And in most police stations you walk up to the counter and they hand you the arrest log when you ask for it. It’s the law.

    So I then took my request to Town Hall, where First Selectman Carl Fortuna granted me a hallway interview after I waited outside his office for a while. He told me he would call the police department and ask about my request for the police records, but I never heard back from him.

    He did share, in our chat, that he supports the town’s current lawsuit in Superior Court challenging an opinion by the state Freedom of Information Commission ordering the public release of a report believed to be critical of the police chief.

    While in Old Saybrook, I visited Lambe’s hilltop mansion, that looks out at a distant view of the Connecticut River. I gave my contact information to his wife, when she answered the door, but she told me not to expect to hear from him. I didn’t.

    I didn’t get so close to Sander’s home in Old Lyme, which is on a wooded 29-acre compound down an unpaved road and marked by tall gates with gargoyles and a keep out sign carved into the stone.

    Beyond the gates is a no trespassing sign that says: “I own firearms and a backhoe.”

    Does that mean you might get shot and then buried?

    I turned around.

    This is the opinion of David Collins

    d.collins@theday.com

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