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How an unsigned memo forced retirements and resignations inside Connecticut’s state government

Connecticut State Budget Director Melissa McCaw
Ebong Udoma
Connecticut Secretary of Policy Management Melissa McCaw

A document alleging reports of “fear mongering and threats” by Kosta Diamantis never reached its destination: Governor Ned Lamont.

In the memo, Diamantis, a former state deputy budget director who was fired last October after subpoenas were issued in a federal investigation of Connecticut school construction contracts, was accused of finding ways around competitive bidding for projects by creating an emergency declaration.

This issue has led to the retirements and resignations of multiple Connecticut state officials.

WSHU’s Ebong Udoma spoke with Mark Pazniokas, the capitol bureau chief and co-founder of CT Mirror, to discuss his article, “An unsigned memo provoked a vigorous defense from Kosta Diamantis,” as part of the collaborative podcast, Long Story Short.

WSHU: You say this memo was from the building trades ahead of a meeting with Governor Ned Lamont in the summer of 2020. Could you give us a brief background of what was in this memo? And how does that tie into the subsequent federal grand jury investigation into Diamantis’s school construction contracts?

MP: Sure. My interest in this memo that was written by the trade association — really, I was looking at it to determine at what point should the governor and his administration have been alerted to the fact that perhaps there were some improprieties in school construction grants? So in the summer of 2020, the Connecticut building trades, the association of all the different construction unions, had a meeting with the governor. And it was kind of a “clear the air” meeting for a variety of issues. I got access to not only the building trades memo, which was really talking points that were drafted in advance of the meeting with the governor, and a very vehement rebuttal that Diamantis wrote while he was still the director of the Office of School Construction Grants and Review.

And one of the questions was: who saw these two memos? And the governor said he never saw the building trades memo, nor did he see the rebuttal. And both the governor and the building trades members say they really never got to the issue of the school construction and Diamantis was accused in this memo of really engineering an emergency declaration.

WSHU: It wasn't Diamantis that came up with this declaration. It had something to do with the crumbling foundations and school in Tolland.

MP: There had only been two schools that had been authorized to be rebuilt under these emergency procedures. One was after Sandy Hook. And the other one was this primary school in Tolland where, yes, the foundation was found to be crumbling due to pyrrhotite, which is a mineral that expands when wet, and has really bedeviled a lot of homeowners in that part of Connecticut.

And you're right, Diamantis and the school office had nothing to do with the emergency declaration, which was done by the Commissioner of Administrative Services in consultation with lawyers. But one of the consequences of the emergency declaration is you did not have to get competitive bids. There have been a number of allegations by a number of officials in various cities and towns that Diamantis did urge them to hire particular contractors.

And in one case, it was a company that was employing his daughter, Anastasia Diamantis.

WSHU: And that's another twist to the story.

MP: Yes.

WSHU: That now brings in the forced retirement of Chief State's Attorney Richard Colangelo over his hiring of Diamantis’s daughter.

MP: Yes, that led to the Chief State's Attorney retiring rather than face removal proceedings, because of the conclusion of an inquiry commissioned by the governor's office by a former U.S. Attorney Stanley Twardy. He concluded that the Chief State's Attorney was not truthful in answering questions about this. And so there was that consequence. And then we have another consequence, which is Melissa McCaw, who is still technically the secretary of Policy Management. That's the person in charge of the state budget. She had hired Diamantis as her deputy.

And she and Diamantis was lobbied by Mr. Colangelo, yet another wrinkle, for helping getting raises for top prosecutors at the same time that Mr. Colangelo hired Diamantis’s daughter to a $99,000 a year job as an executive assistant. So it is kind of a stunning series of dominoes that's gone over, as far as the OPM secretary is gone, the Chief State's Attorney is retiring in March as a result of this.

And then, of course, the FBI is investigating whether or not there were any illegalities and how contracts were managed in Connecticut.

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.