The long knives were out this morning in Hartford. A source, believed to be from the office of Governor Ned Lamont, whispered to a friendly reporter: “Be sure to ask the governor what he would do if he had the authority to act regarding Chief State’s Attorney Richard Colangelo. The governor will say he would fire him.”
On command, the question was asked, and, on cue, the governor parroted lines no doubt written for him by another: “I do not hire him. I do not fire him. But if I did, he’d be gone.”
Seriously, governor. Yesterday in a press release from your office regarding the 40-plus page report of an independent counsel involving Mr. Colangelo you were prepared to endorse a polite slap on the wrist. You called for ethics training for state prosecutors and the creation of new policies to avoid the appearance of conflicts of interest in the chief state’s attorney’s office. Those responses fit. Today’s engineered public relations stunt was a grotesque overreaction? What changed?
The headlines in today’s Hartford Courant screamed federal grand jury investigation of state funding of various programs in eastern Connecticut. Could it be that this report has the hairs on the back of the governor’s neck standing on end?
I suspect it is.
Mr. Colangelo is the state’s top prosecutor. He’s relatively new on the job. One of his goals is to equalize compensation among managerial and rank and file prosecutors. As it turns out, unionized members have received hefty raises in years passed. Their non-unionized colleagues – their bosses – did not. Hence, underlings sometimes make more than their bosses. It’s kind of hard to promote talent within in the ranks when you are asking folks to take a financial haircut if promoted.
The state, being an administrative behemoth, has many levers that must be pulled to make things happened. Mr. Colangelo went to top-dog bean counters to get approval for pay raises for managers. Among those to whom he spoke is a man named Konstantinos Diamantis, until recently a senior administrator in the state’s Office of Policy and Management and the Department of Administrative Services. He also played a role in state financing of various public projects.
It appears that Mr. Colangelo did what state bureaucrats do: he located the levers of power necessary to get what he wanted for his agency, and he pulled those levers. He pleaded his case to Mr. Diamantis, who apparently agreed to go to bat for Mr. Colangelo. Mr. Diamantis merely had the power of persuasion, he did not have authority to release the funds or approve pay raises for state’s attorney. Mr. Colangelo never got approval for the raises for his people, but, during the pendency of his request for funds, Mr. Diamantis’s daughter ended up working for Mr. Colangelo as an executive assistance.
The timing looked suspicious. Did Mr. Colangelo give her the job in exchange for her father’s support for raises? If so, it was a stupid bargain: According to emails, Mr. Diamantis already had committed to helping obtain approval for the raises when his daughter was offered a job. He was not induced to help the top prosecutor in exchange for a job for his daughter.
Mr. Diamantis was forced from state service when this all became public. In the interest of full disclosure, I represent Mr. Diamantis in an appeal he brought in seeking benefits he lost when he left state employment. We’ve filed the appeal under seal. Pressure has been brought to bear from the governor’s office on Mr. Diamantis to withdraw the appeal. If the appeal surfaces, he has been told: “All bets are off.”
It sounds like something out of the godfather. What’s he being offered in exchange for silence?
Yesterday’s announcement that a federal grand jury last October requested records involving Mr. Diamantis and various public works projects makes him a leper now. Even the governor won’t dare wink and nod at a payment of contested benefits to a man under federal investigation. We gird for the battle to come.
So, apparently, does Mr. Lamont, who’s had a horrible week. Just this week, during an election year, his chief operating office, Joshua Gabelle abruptly resigned. Why would he do that during an election year? Timing is everything. One wonders whether the governor knew all about a federal investigation of his administration: the governor’s chief counsel, and, apparently, an auditor of the so-called investigation of Mr. Colangelo, is a woman named Nora Danaehy. She’s married to Connecticut’s United State’s Attorney, Leonard Boyle. Pillow talk, anyone?
Federal grand juries are hungry. They usually start with a suspicion about one thing and often end up finding something altogether different. In this case, press accounts have already raised questions whether Mr. Gabelle had a hand in questionable direction of state funds to a company called Sema4, a firm involved in COVID testing that is the recipient of investments by a venture capital firm in which the governor’s wife, Annie, is a managing partner.
So why the overnight turn on Mr. Colangelo? Fear works.
There could well be trouble on the horizon for Mr. Lamont.
The entity with the power to hire and fire Mr. Colangelo is the state’s Criminal Justice Commission. I hope that body, an independent entity within the executive branch, looks before it leaps to any conclusions about Mr. Colangelo. I’ve litigated case against him for years and know him to be honest and man of integrity. Bad optics aren’t criminal. The commission ought to be asking serious questions about who within the Chief State’s Attorney’s Office has been stirring this pot. Who gains if Mr. Colangelo is gone? There’s a whispering campaign about Mr. Colangelo going on among some prosecutors, with dark, defamatory rumors being chortled over with a sadist’s glee.
Get rid of the cancer in the agency; it’s not Mr. Colangelo.
As for Ned Lamont, I confess I never liked the man. Many years ago, he was called for jury duty in a criminal case in Norwalk. I represented one of the defendants. His answers about the presumption of innocence were so bizarre that the judge struck him from the panel as unable to follow the Court’s instructions.
Someone remind me. How did we end up with him as governor?