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    Tuesday, November 29, 2022

    Connecticut Port Authority reveals which employees accepted gifts

    At the request of two state senators, the quasi-public Connecticut Port Authority has released the names of its two employees that improperly accepted gifts from a company vying for port authority business.

    Former Connecticut Port Authority Executive Director Evan Matthews and Andrew Lavigne, the CPA’s current manager of business development and special projects, each received a $625 ticket from New York-based Seabury Maritime Capital to a May 2019 National Hockey League playoff game in Boston along with food and beverages from a restaurant.

    Their names were revealed in a letter from Connecticut Port Authority board Chairman David Kooris to State Sen. Paul Formica, R-East Lyme, and Senate Republican Leader Kevin Kelly. The senators had requested information in the wake of an investigation by the Office of State Ethics. That investigation determined Seabury, which was hired by the CPA in 2018 to help find an operator for State Pier in New London, violated the state code of ethics when it provided more than $3,000 in gifts and food to CPA officials in 2017 and 2019.

    The CPA had already been criticized for providing Seabury a $523,000 “success fee” as part of the $700,000 payment for their work, something the State Contracting Standards Board said was similar to a “finder’s fee,” and not permitted by state statute. Henry Juan of Greenwich, who was employed by Seabury, had resigned from the CPA’s board several months before Seabury was hired.

    It was Lavigne who had reported the acceptance of hockey tickets, meals and beverages in early July of 2019. One CPA board member who allegedly accepted gifts from Seabury has not been identified and it is unclear if that person remains on the board.

    Seabury agreed to pay a $10,000 settlement in the ethics case and admitted it provided gifts totaling $800 in 2017 and $2,300 worth of gifts in 2019. Those gifts included food and drinks and a leather accessory for a CPA employee and the employee’s spouse in 2017 at a charity event in New York. A CPA board member with secondhand information reported to the Office of State Ethics in 2020 that the 2017 gifts were received by Matthews, Kooris said. It came at a time when Seabury had not yet been hired by the CPA.

    Later that year, on Aug. 17, 2017, Seabury paid $200 for an overnight stay at a private club in Greenwich for the same employee and spouse, along with $300 in food and drinks for the same CPA employee, the employee’s spouse and a CPA board member.

    Kooris said he does not know the board member who accepted food and drinks but has asked current board members to disclose whether any of them is “CPA Board Member Number One” which is how the Office of State Ethics described the person in it’s report. Kooris said none of the current members have identified themselves as that person.

    Matthews and Lavigne were involved in the review of Seabury’s responses to the CPA’s request for proposals and qualifications in 2018, Kooris said.

    Lavigne is not involved in the voting process and “to the best knowledge of the CPA leadership, Mr. Lavigne did not make any recommendations to the Board with respect to the selection of Seabury,” Kooris said in his letter.

    Kooris said the CPA is working to determine whether Matthews or Lavigne prepared any reports, memorandums or other communications regarding Seabury that was shared with voting members. Kooris, in his response to Formica, explained that Lavigne had come to the board leadership in early July 2019 to disclose that he and Matthews had received the hockey tickets and had meals and beverages paid for by Seabury.

    “Mr. Lavigne further informed CPA leadership that prior to the game he had indicated to Seabury his intent to reimburse the company for all of his expenses related to that evening, and he subsequently did so,” Kooris said.

    The Office of State Ethics said in its statement last month that the reimbursement for the hockey tickets, food and drinks did not come with the 30 days of the violation as required by state statute. No reimbursements have been made for the other gifts.

    Lavigne was not disciplined by the CPA. Matthews was placed on leave on July 12, 2019 amid criticism of the CPA’s lack of policies and procedures and subsequently resigned. Kooris said Lavigne participated in the CPA’s ethics training in the fall of 2019 and participated in that training annually since.

    Peter J. Lewandowski, the executive director of the Office of State Ethics, said that because of confidentiality requirements, he could not confirm or deny if his office is investigating the individuals who received gifts.

    “If there are matters pending, unless such matters are dismissed by a judge trial referee, the identity of the respondents will eventually be disclosed either by way of stipulation and consent order or determination of probable cause,” Lewandowski said in an email to The Day on Monday.

    Formica said on Monday that he appreciated Kooris addressing each of the 13 questions he had posed. He said it was clear that Matthews and Lavigne were involved in conversations leading up to the hiring of Seabury. And while Formica acknowledged that Lavigne is not a voting member of the board, he said he remained skeptical that Lavigne did not make any recommendations to the Board.

    Formica credited Kooris with doing a “good job righting the ship in many ways,” but said the information surrounding the ethics investigation should have been readily available “instead of waiting for someone to ask.”

    “It’s time to put the shenanigans of the past to rest and focus on the mission, which is to build a first-class port and try to develop the emerging industry of offshore wind, if that’s the direction we’re going,” Formica said.

    The CPA is managing the $235.5 million construction project at State Pier in New London that is being transformed into a hub for the offshore wind industry.

    In a statement on behalf of the CPA, Kooris said: “Beginning in late-2019, under new leadership, the Authority performed a complete overhaul of its policies and procedures. With the assistance of the Office of Policy and Management and outside auditors, the Authority updated its ethics policies and all employees and board members now receive annual ethics training and certifications.”

    g.smith@theday.com

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