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New York contractor pays $10K state ethics penalty to settle Connecticut Port Authority case

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Connecticut Port Authority
State Pier in New London, Conn.

A New York-based maritime company has been fined $10,000 for violating Connecticut state ethics law on gift giving to employees, spouses and a board member at the Connecticut Port Authority.

The gifts provided by Seabury PFRA, LLC include hockey tickets, food, drinks and an overnight stay at a Greenwich club. The gifts totaled $800 in 2017 and another $2,300 in 2019, when Seabury had a consulting contract with the Port Authority and was seeking additional contracts.

“Private companies that seek to engage state and quasi-public agencies for contracts must understand that fostering good will with state officials and employees cannot involve provision of impermissible gifts," said Peter Lewandowski, executive director of the Office of State Ethics.

He said due to privacy concerns, he’s unable to say whether any further action will be taken on the case against any individuals involved.

“If an ethics complaint was brought against a specific person, that person would be identified in a consent order, if one was to be issued,“ Lewandowski said. “So again, at this point, I cannot confirm or deny if there’s anything else besides what we released.”

Seabury is also part of an ongoing investigation by the state Attorney General’s Office over a $500,000 success fee they were paid by the Port Authority for finding Gateway, the new harbor management company for State Pier in New London.

The Port Authority is a quasi-state agency responsible for marketing and coordinating development at Connecticut's three deep-water ports. Through a partnership with Gateway, Orsted and Eversource, State Pier is poised to become a hub for operations of the offshore wind industry.

Kevin Blacker, a long-time critic of the Port Authority, said he expects more penalties against its employees for its mismanagement of State Pier.

“I’d call those gifts by another name, what they are, which is bribes,” Blacker said. “Absolutely there’ll be more to come. There’s the attorney general investigation; the ongoing federal investigation; the Contracting Standards Board still has this stance that the public-private partnership entered into at State Pier was illegal.”

In a statement, Port Authority Chair David Kooris said he has overhauled the quasi-state agency’s policies and procedures since Governor Ned Lamont appointed him in July 2019.

He said all employees and board members now receive annual ethics training and certifications — contractors "are similar made aware of the proper protocols."

"This is an unfortunate reminder of issues that occurred under prior leadership at the Port Authority,” Kooris said. “We learned today of this outcome of the Office of State Ethics' investigation into these matters from three-plus years ago and, based on their efforts to hold individuals and companies accountable, authority stakeholders should be reassured that matters from the past will be thoroughly and transparently investigated."

An award-winning freelance reporter/host for WSHU, Brian lives in southeastern Connecticut and covers stories for WSHU across the Eastern side of the state.