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Kosta Diamantis arrested on federal charges

Kosta Diamantis, the former director of Connecticut's school construction program and a state deputy budget director, resigned from his government offices in October 2021 amid multiple investigations into his conduct.
Jacqueline Rabe Thomas
CT Mirror
Kosta Diamantis, the former director of Connecticut's school construction program and a state deputy budget director, resigned from his government offices in October 2021 amid multiple investigations into his conduct.

Konstantinos “Kosta” Diamantis, a former Connecticut lawmaker and deputy budget director, was arrested Thursday morning by federal agents under a sealed grand jury indictment, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office.

Diamantis is to be arraigned in U.S. District Court in Hartford later today, where the indictment listing the charges against him is expected to be unsealed, spokesman Tom Carson said Thursday.

The charges are the result of a years-long investigation into Diamantis, who ran Connecticut’s school construction program and oversaw other projects for Governor Ned Lamont’s administration until he was fired from one state position and resigned from another in October 2021.

Diamantis’ arrest makes him the highest-ranked state official to face federal charges since Governor John G. Rowland.

Diamantis resigned from his job overseeing the school construction program in October 2021, shortly after the state received the first of several grand jury subpoenas that asked for emails and records related to his work in state government.

At the same time, Lamont removed Diamantis from his appointed position as deputy budget director based on his attempts to secure a job for his daughter in the Office of the Chief State’s Attorney. He was suspended with pay from the school construction post.

Rather than accept the suspension, Diamantis retired. When he tried to rescind his retirement, then-DAS Commissioner Josh Geballe denied it.

Diamantis then filed a grievance with the state Employee Review Board, alleging he was targeted by the administration after he complained that two of Lamont’s top aides, Geballe and Paul Mounds, had been disrespectful to OPM Secretary Melissa McCaw. The grievance was denied.

More school contracts scrutinized

The FBI investigation into the state-financed school construction grants overseen by Diamantis began in 2021 when a federal grand jury issued a subpoena for all emails, text messages and attachments involving Diamantis, other members of his Office of School Construction Grants & Review (OSCG&R) team and a broad range of construction projects.

Among the projects that drew federal authorities’ interest was the Birch Grove School in Tolland, which was constructed on an emergency basis after the foundation of the existing school was found to be crumbing. Diamantis helped to award no-bid contracts for that project to D’Amato Construction of Bristol and Construction Advocacy Professionals, or CAP, which hired his daughter. The contract to build a new school on the site was worth $46 million.

Construction Advocacy Professionals, which was owned by Antonietta DiBenedetto, received two no-bid contracts worth a combined $530,000 to oversee the building of the Birch Grove School.

Tolland officials gave CAP a $70,000 contract to oversee installation of portable classrooms on June 20, 2019, according to contracts obtained by the Connecticut Mirror.

Weeks later, a contract amendment, giving CAP another $460,000 worth of work, was signed on Sept. 18, 2019 for the construction of a new Birch Grove school.

Federal authorities sent an addendum to that first subpoena eight days later asking the state to prioritize 19 search terms — among them Anastasia, Antonietta, DiBenedetto-Roy, Construction Advocacy Professionals and Birch Grove.

Tolland school officials said they were pressured to hire whoever Diamantis wanted, and they went along with the plan, they said, in order to secure the state funding for the new school. The state eventually paid the entire cost to demolish the old school and build the new one.

“Representatives of the town and the board felt they had no real choice as to CAP and D’Amato because Mr. Diamantis routinely emphasized there would be detrimental effects to the project if Tolland chose contractors or consultants other than CAP or D’Amato,” Tolland Superintendent of Schools Walt Willets said in a statement.

During that same time frame CAP was working at Birch Grove, it hired Anastasia Diamantis to work for them.

Anastasia Diamantis told investigators with former U.S. Attorney Stanley Twardy Jr.’s office that the owner of CAP “called her out of the blue and offered her the job.”

Twardy was hired by Lamont to investigate how Anastasia got a job in then-Chief State’s Attorney Richard Colangelo’s office at the same time Colangelo was lobbying Diamantis for pay raises for prosecutors.

The federal investigation into the school construction grant program quickly spread from Tolland to several other school projects, including Bristol, Groton, Enfield and Hartford.

Officials in Bristol and Groton said they were pressured to scrap competitive bids for school-related construction projects in early 2020 and instead told to award multimillion-dollar contracts to companies pre-selected by the state, echoing claims made by other Connecticut towns.

They said they were instructed to give demolition and hazardous waste removal work to two companies — AAIS of West Haven and Bestech of Windsor — that had existing emergency contracts with the state.

A letter obtained by the CT Mirror alleges that Diamantis was responsible for the “directive” that was issued to city officials in Bristol in April 2020.

Both Bristol and Groton defied the Diamantis directive and hired the lowest bidders.

“I do remember there was some talk about whether we had to dispense with the low bidder because the second-lowest bidder was on a state contract,” said Ellen Zoppo-Sassu, the former mayor of Bristol.

“I pushed back, because if there is a low bidder, there is a low bidder,” she added. “It was a very confusing thing right as we were beginning.”

New initiative

But those projects were just the beginning. Over the next two years, Diamantis and Mike Sanders, the man who had overseen the state’s emergency hazardous waste contract for years with little oversight, attempted to direct millions of dollars in demolition and abatement work at local schools to AAIS and Bestech, records show.

Emails, meeting minutes and other documents obtained by The Connecticut Mirror show the push to award contracts to the two hazmat companies went well beyond what was previously reported and continued even after complaints from other contractors reached the highest levels of Lamont’s administration.

All told, the two companies got more than $12 million in school demolition without being the low bidder and in some cases without bidding at all, records show.

A frustrated Hartford School Building Committee member questioned how AAIS ended up on the Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School project and said, “It seems our hands are tied” and that he couldn’t wait to not have to pay them anymore.

The MLK project was one of the first where the new “initiative” was put into action. But in an email in early 2020, Sanders made it clear that the plan was to use that small list of companies to perform every school demolition and abatement project.

“Have no doubt in your mind. ALL school construction abatement and demolition is going to be done by the state contract!” Sanders wrote in an email to a construction manager in Groton.

Launched in 2010, The Connecticut Mirror specializes in in-depth news and reporting on public policy, government and politics. CT Mirror is nonprofit, non-partisan, and digital only.