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Why two Connecticut school construction contracts are under scrutiny amid a federal probe

Peter H from Pixabay

Two hazmat companies were given nearly all of Connecticut school construction contracts, raising questions amid other ongoing investigations concerning Konstantinos Diamantis, the former deputy secretary of the state Office of Policy Management. A federal grand jury subpoena has inquired about Connecticut’s school construction contracts grant program, which Diamantis led. The contracts with those companies have now ended.

WSHU’s Ebong Udoma spoke with CT Mirror’s Dave Altimari to discuss his article, “Companies named in subpoena were primarily recipients of hazmat work,” as part of the collaborative podcast, Long Story Short.

WSHU: Could you give us a brief background of what this federal grand jury investigation is all about?

DA: Last October, the state of Connecticut got a subpoena from a grand jury asking them for all of the emails and text messages from a man named Kosta Diamantis, who at that time was the deputy secretary of the Office of Policy Management and more importantly, in charge of the state schools construction grant program. In that subpoena, they asked the state to search for certain words to try to narrow down the scope of the request. Among them were two hazardous abatement companies: AAIS, out of West Haven, and Bestech, out of Ellington. It turns out those two companies are two of four that were on an emergency call list for the state to call if they needed work done quickly at a state building .

WSHU:  The need for quick work was that this was hazardous waste that needed to be quickly dealt with and they wouldn’t need to go through a whole vetting process because for the companies…

DA: Yes they wanted to have companies on call who had already been approved and their pricing lists were already available.

WSHU: But during this time period 284 projects were handled by these companies?

DA: Yes, under the initial contact there were 285 purchase orders that were issued between 2017 to 2021. A\lmost 99% of them went to these two companies AAIS and Bestech for roughly $27 million out of $28 million over the span of the contract.

WSHU: So 99% of the money as well. Diamantis started this when he was under the Department of Administrative Services, and then he moved to the Office of Policy and Management and carried this portfolio with him. Is that normal in the state government?

DA: He was appointed by Lamont as the deputy secretary of OPM. That's what made it a little unusual. He was technically an employee of the DAS, as were the 20 people that worked for him and the school construction program. So when he was appointed to OPM, they decided to basically let him take that program with him and take the people with him as well. So that's why he was doing, basically in effect two jobs. So he was in control of the school grant program and one of the big questions is really was anyone watching what he was doing? Which doesn’t appear to be the case.

WSHU: Well, there were complaints, that pretty much blew this up. They started with Stamford Wrecking, and their attorney Raymond Garcia, who took his concerns to the state Attorney General, William Tong, could you talk a little bit about that?

DA: Yes. Stamford Wrecking is another hazardous abatement company. Their president had actually twice written to the then-DAS Commissioner Josh Gaballe and to OPM Secretary Melissa McCaw, about some contracts that he was unable to bid on for a demolition in school contracts that Diamantis had given out. He then hired a lawyer, Mr. Garcia in New Haven who sent a letter to the attorney general in February of 2021, specifically claiming about a few school projects that they had been unable to bid on. And complaining that Diamantis was not using the emergency contract the way it was supposed to be used and asked Tong to look into it.

WSHU: Okay.After that Diamantis took some action. What action did he take?

DA: About a month after Garcia wrote to Tong, Diamantis put out a directive that went out to all state agencies and municipalities theoretically clarifying when they are supposed to use the on-call list and making sure they should get four bids for any contract that they were going to put out going forward.

WSHU: When you went through the subpoenas and found out that these companies seem to be the primary focus, you approached the state about this and they abruptly canceled the contract?

DA: This past Friday I asked the department of administrative services, I sent them my analysis that AAIS in particular had gotten $20, almost $22 million out of the $28 million in contracts over the five year period. And so I asked some questions on how that occurred, who was watching, how they were awarded, who awarded them. And later that same day, they responded that they were going to cancel the contract, which was supposed to run until April. And that they were actually going to do a review of a newer contract that they had gotten RFP’s on after the Garcia letter to the attorney general. So right now in effect the 2016 contract is no longer and the 2020 contract is on hold.

As WSHU Public Radio’s award-winning senior political reporter, Ebong Udoma draws on his extensive tenure to delve deep into state politics during a major election year.
Molly is a reporter covering Fairfield County. She also produces Long Story Short, a podcast exploring public policy issues across Connecticut.