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    Sunday, June 16, 2024

    OPINION: How did Lamont miss what FBI calls blatant stealing?

    Konstantinos Diamantis speaks during a February 2020 news conference on State Pier, with Gov. Ned Lamont at left behind him, in this screenshot. Diamantis has been indicted in a federal probe.

    As news broke Thursday of the arrest of Gov. Ned Lamont’s former deputy budget chief on a panoply of corruption charges, I couldn’t help but wonder how the governor could have been so clueless about what the FBI called blatant wrongdoing in his administration.

    The charges and three arrests, which could be the first of more, represent the most serious high-level corruption allegations in the state since the reign of former Gov. John Rowland, who ended up in prison.

    “The depth of deception, collusion and abuse of power by the defendants in this case, as alleged, is glaring,” FBI Special Agent in Charge Robert Fuller told the Connecticut Mirror.

    Indeed, the indictment of Konstantinos “Kosta” Diamantis reads like a cheap novel about mobsters, with the high-ranking Lamont administration executive allegedly shaking down contractors for cash payments he called “presents.”

    It’s hard to forget, given the Connecticut Mirror’s thorough reporting on the long unfolding of this scandal, that other contractors who lost out on state work because Diamantis was allegedly steering it to people paying kickbacks, warned the Lamont administration, long before the FBI began issuing subpoenas, that competitive bid laws were not being followed.

    “Any effort by (the Office of Policy and Management) to circumvent the proper public bidding requirements and award a no bid contract from the emergency list would be illegal, a violation of the bid statutes and practices in the State of Connecticut,” Irving Goldblum, the president of Stamford Wrecking, wrote on April 29, 2020 to high-ranking Lamont Administration officials, according to the Mirror.

    Talk about a cry for help from victims, a cry that apparently fell on deaf ears in Lamont’s world, where everyone seemed to have Diamantis’s back.

    I couldn’t help but remember, while reading the Diamantis indictment, a Capitol news conference from Feb. 11, 2020, when Lamont introduced Diamantis as his guy in charge of bringing the troubled State Pier project by the Connecticut Port Authority in “on time and under budget.”

    Remember, the port authority was already beset by scandals and ethics complaints by the time Lamont put Diamantis in charge of the spending of tens of millions of dollars there.

    He said that day in 2020 that he had a great deal of confidence in his team.

    “Kosta and David,” Lamont said that day, referring to Diamantis and David Kooris, chairman of the port authority, “they’ve gone over these numbers tight.”

    I asked that day about an estimate by an international marine engineering firm that projected the cost of filling in and renovating State Pier at $349 million, more than twice what was then being budgeted.

    “It’s $157 million, and there are no overruns in this project, and there won’t be,” a pugnacious Diamantis said that day, apparently with the kind of bravado that impressed the governor.

    Of course, as I write this today, the cost of the project, which is still not finished ― it’s way beyond that promised, not-to-be-missed deadline ― has ballooned to well over $300 million.

    Not only was the governor somehow snookered into believing the crazy-low estimates for rebuilding the pier, but he agreed in writing to assume all of the overruns, even though it was supposed to be a joint project with the utilities who would benefit. The utilities don’t have to pay a dime in overruns because of the deal Lamont signed.

    Another federal grand jury began looking at the State Pier project some time after the one that evidently produced these indictments of Diamantis for his work on state schools. So far anyway, no charges have come from the extensive subpoenas issued in regards to the pier work.

    It turns out, according to the Diamantis indictment unsealed Thursday, Diamantis was taking cash bribes and shaking down contractors in the weeks immediately before and after that news conference with the governor about the pier project.

    It was less than five months before Lamont’s endorsement of Diamantis’s acumen at the State Pier news conference that his budget master was demanding a $40,000 bribe payment, according to the indictment.

    “Later that day,” the indictment reads, “Diamantis repeated his threat, writing, ‘Bottom line have him give you 40 for Monday or he’s out,’ and that if Monarca did not deliver ‘the present,’ then ‘Tuesday there will be a new mason.’”

    It’s like a bad mob movie, right? No wonder the FBI called it blatant.

    The good thing for Connecticut, in electing a very rich governor like Lamont, who was born with several silver spoons in his mouth, is that his net worth probably goes up and down in $40,000 increments by the minute, as markets move.

    I have no worries about him taking petty bribes.

    The problem is, if what the FBI is alleging is true, Lamont was not so good at seeing the bribe taking going on right under his nose, despite loud cries for help from the victims, whom he and his team evidently ignored.

    This is the opinion of David Collins

    d.collins@theday.com

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