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    Sunday, April 14, 2024

    Inquiry underway over top prosecutor’s hiring of OPM official’s daughter

    The administration of Gov. Ned Lamont has retained former U.S. Attorney Stanley A. Twardy Jr. and two other lawyers from the firm of Day Pitney to investigate “possible improprieties by state employees and possibly others.”

    Chief State’s Attorney Richard Colangelo Jr. said Thursday a focus of the inquiry is the circumstances surrounding his hiring of Anastasia Diamantis, the daughter of Kostantinos “Kosta” Diamantis, one of the budget officials whom Colangelo had been lobbying for help in securing raises, recently obtained emails show.

    Colangelo said he and the Division of Criminal Justice welcome the inquiry.

    “There was never any impropriety in the hiring of Miss Diamantis or any of my executive assistants, and the division is eager to see the matter resolved,” Colangelo said.

    Kosta Diamantis simultaneously was deputy secretary of the Office of Policy and Management, an unclassified political position, and the director of the Office of School Construction Grants and Review, a classified job with civil service protections.

    On Oct. 28, Diamantis was removed from the OPM position by the governor’s office and suspended with pay from the school construction post. Rather than accept the suspension, Diamantis retired.

    Emails obtained by the CT Mirror under the Freedom of Information Act show that Anastasia Diamantis was hired as Colangelo unsuccessfully pressed state officials, including Diamantis, for help securing raises for prosecutors to address what he called longstanding disparities compared to public defenders and others.

    They also show that Anastasia Diamantis, a state employee since 2015, had a part-time job with a school construction management company for several years. She kept the job for at least 14 months after starting on July 3, 2020 as a $99,000-a-year executive assistant in Colangelo’s office.

    When Colangelo hired her, she had been employed for nearly five years at the Department of Rehabilitation Services, first as an executive secretary to the commissioner and then as a disability claims examiner assistant. She has a master’s degree in elementary education from Fairfield University and a bachelor of science degree in psychology from Sacred Heart University.

    Questions were first raised about her hiring in a column published Oct. 1 by The Hartford Courant. The emails obtained by CT Mirror provide previously unreported details about Colangelo’s lobbying for raises and Anastasia Diamantis’ second job with the construction company, Construction Advocacy Professionals, which represents owners in overseeing construction.

    Colangelo said his hiring of Anastasia Diamantis posed no conflict, nor should it create the appearance of one, because the Department of Administrative Services is the authority for establishing compensation plans for the Division of Criminal Justice, not OPM.

    “I did not have any concern about that,” he said.

    Still, it was Kosta Diamantis who informed him in writing on May 21, 2020, shortly before his daughter applied for the criminal justice job, that due to fiscal constraints, the OPM could not support his request. Colangelo continued to make his case for the raises to Diamantis and OPM Secretary Melissa McCaw after Anastasia Diamantis started work for him in July 2020.

    In an email on Aug. 31, 2020, he told Kosta that the pay scale was depressing the number of applications for state’s attorney: There were only five for openings in the Hartford and Stamford-Norwalk judicial districts.

    “Kosta, Here are the number of applicants that we have had. We really need to correct the not moving from 35 to 40 hours for this group,” Colangelo wrote. “You can see how it has hurt the number of applicants. I look forward to having the opportunity to discuss this with you.”

    Administration silent on scope of inquiry

    It is unclear if Twardy’s inquiry reaches beyond Diamantis’ hiring by Colangelo.

    The state’s contract with Twardy, which was signed Nov. 15, offers scant detail about the scope of work: “The contractor will serve as outside legal counsel to conduct a factual investigation on behalf of the Office of the Governor regarding possible improprieties by state employees and possibly others, and, as requested, to provide legal analysis and recommendations for possible further actions.”

    The contract was capped at $75,000 and anticipated Twardy conducting 12 to 15 interviews, without identifying the subjects, though it referenced directions to come: “A more detailed description of the services will be provided in a ‘Statement of Work’ to be provided separately.”

    The Lamont administration declined to provide the statement of work, citing attorney-client privilege, or discuss the inquiry in any detail.

    Kosta Diamantis, a former Democratic state representative from Bristol who was hired for the school construction job in 2015 and took on the additional OPM job in 2019, said Thursday he believed the paper trail of emails and other documents showed there was no undue influence in the hiring of his daughter.

    He offered no opinion of who might be interviewed.

    “I haven’t the foggiest idea why they would waste that much time and energy when the emails speak for themselves,” Diamantis said. “My question in rebuttal would be, ‘What is in the emails that suggest I did anything improper? Which I did not. And so my next part of that is, so if it’s not improper, then they want to dig further to ask questions, so that they can find something improper?”

    He has retained a lawyer, Norm Pattis, who could not be reached for comment.

    Diamantis exited state service with a scorching assessment of the governor’s senior staff, and the governor’s office indicated that retaining outside counsel was intended to show impartiality.

    “Independent counsel was retained in order to ensure a complete and thorough review, free of any potential claim of partiality,” Max Reiss, the governor’s communication director, said in an emailed statement. “This independent inquiry is ongoing. The Office of the Governor will not have further comment as this is an ongoing review.”

    In an interview with the CT Mirror on the night he retired, Diamantis criticized the governor’s top aides: Paul Mounds, the chief of staff; Josh Geballe, the chief operating officer; and Nora Dannehy, the general counsel. He complained they disrespected McCaw, the OPM secretary.

    Twardy’s contract was signed by Attorney General William Tong, not Dannehy or anyone else in the governor’s office. Dannehy, however, is listed as the contact for the office of the governor.

    Twardy also was the chief of staff to former Gov. Lowell P. Weicker Jr., who served from 1991 to 1995.

    “I welcome any review of the hiring process because I know the outcome will allow us to move on and continue our focus on the very important work that the division does every day to serve the citizens of Connecticut,” said Colangelo, who oversees a division that employs more than 500 people.

    OPM, where Diamantis was influential, had no authority to either create the executive assistant position given to his daughter, nor could it unilaterally address Colangelo’s complaint that the salaries of prosecutors were not changed when the state shifted them from a 35-hour to 40-hour work week decades ago, Colangelo said.

    The commissioner of the Department of Administrative Services and McCaw, the secretary of OPM, would have to sign off. But OPM is seen as a place where hiring, the domain of DAS, can be slowed, especially in times of fiscal difficulties.

    Colangelo said OPM played no role in authorizing the executive assistant position that went to Anastasia Diamantis.

    “The executive assistant positions were created through DAS with the Division of Criminal Justice,” said Colangelo, who took over leadership of the division in January. “They were effective on March 13, 2020. They were created way before I even met Anastasia.”

    She emailed her resume to Colangelo on June 9, 2020. She referenced a previous conversation, saying, “Attached please find my resume, per your request.”

    About two weeks earlier, it was her father who gave Colangelo bad news about the compensation plan.

    “OPM currently estimates a General Fund deficit of $620 million in FY 2020, $2.4 billion in FY 2021, and likely more than $3 billion in FY 2022, based on current consensus estimate of the long-term effects of the pandemic on the state’s economy and revenues,” Diamantis wrote Colangelo on May 21. “We are, therefore, unable to pursue your request for increased compensation, at this time.”

    In an interview Thursday, Colangelo said the paucity of applicants to his office has worsened.

    “This became critical for me when we were filling the New London state’s attorney position,” he said. The division received three applications, only two from candidates who met the qualifications.

    Colangelo said he would continue to seek higher compensation for prosecutors.

    A part-time job in school construction

    Colangelo said he was aware of Anastasia Diamantis’ part-time job with the construction management company and that outside employment is permitted.

    Antonietta DiBenedetto-Roy, the owner of the construction management company, said Diamantis had worked for her on projects in Rhode Island, in part to avoid any potential conflict with her father’s role in overseeing construction grants. Emails show, however, that at least on a few occasions, the younger Diamantis helped the company with documentation on a Connecticut project.

    Diamantis is no longer employed by DiBenedetto-Roy, but she declined to say when Diamantis left.

    Anastasia Diamantis did not respond to requests for comment.

    Some of Diamantis’ private-job emails became state records because they were copied to her state email address. The last email she sent on behalf of Construction Advocacy Professionals was dated Sept. 17, 2021 and related to a list of Rhode Island school and finance contacts she assembled for the company.

    But Anastasia Diamantis was copied on an exchange of emails between her father and DiBenedetto-Roy regarding state documentation on the Birch Grove Primary School project in Tolland in July 2019, a project fast-tracked to replace a school with a crumbling foundation undermined by pyrrhotite, a mineral that expands when exposed to moisture. Her father said he could not recall why he copied her.

    She also twice exchanged emails with DiBenedetto on the Tolland project in September 2020, each time during the state work day.

    On Friday, September 4, 2020, DiBenedetto asked her to prepare a spreadsheet listing the subcontractors of the Tolland school’s general contractor, D’Amato Construction of Bristol. Diamantis sent her the material at 3:23 p.m. the following Tuesday. Two weeks later, Diamantis answered another email about documentation on the Tolland project.

    “It might have been something she was just helping me with, filing of documentation,” DiBenedetto-Roy said. “Because she was strictly working for me in Rhode Island.”

    Mark Pazniokas is a reporter for The Connecticut Mirror (www.ctmirror.org). Copyright 2021 © The Connecticut Mirror.


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