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Behind Kosta Diamantis’ arrest: Money woes, unfettered power

Konstantinos “Kosta” Diamantis, a former Connecticut lawmaker and deputy budget director, exits the U.S. District Court in Hartford after being charged with 22 counts on May 16, 2024. CREDIT: SHAHRZAD RASEKH / CT MIRROR
Shahrzad Rasekh
/
CT Mirror
Konstantinos “Kosta” Diamantis, a former Connecticut lawmaker and deputy budget director, exits the U.S. District Court in Hartford after being charged with 22 counts on May 16, 2024.

The federal criminal case leveled against Konstantinos Diamantis, a former Connecticut lawmaker and state deputy budget director, paints a portrait of a man who was desperate for cash, had unfettered control over billions of dollars in government money and wasn’t afraid to use that power to ease his own financial troubles.

The 35-page criminal indictment filed last week provides a look at the hidden parts of Diamantis’ six-year tenure running Connecticut’s school construction office, which is responsible for overseeing state grants for local school projects.

In that position, Diamantis was able to influence the budgets, schedules and bids for every school project in the state, and he interacted with a small army of school construction companies, including project administrators, construction managers, plumbing and electrical contractors and demolition and abatement specialists.

But the indictment focuses on two companies that dealt with Diamantis, making the case that he routinely offered favorable treatment in exchange for cash, favors and checks, which they referred to as “presents” and “donations.”

Diamantis was charged with multiple counts of extortion, bribery and lying to investigators.

Federal prosecutors have already secured guilty pleas from three construction officials — Antonietta Roy of Construction Advocacy Professionals, and John Duffy and Salvatore Monarca of Acranom Masonry. Roy and Monarca have agreed to cooperate with the ongoing investigation.

Several state lawmakers told The Connecticut Mirror, after the indictment was released, that the charges against Diamantis, if true, are likely the result of one person accumulating too much power over a taxpayer-funded program.

Connecticut House Speaker Matthew Ritter, D-Hartford, said that while he’d heard of complaints about Diamantis over the past two years, he never expected to read some of the text messages and other evidence that federal prosecutors unveiled last week.

“There’s no checks and balances, right, and that can be a recipe for trouble,” Ritter said.

“Any time you have one person who can make decisions, it’s a problem.”

Add to that Diamantis’ apparent need for money, and you have a recipe for disaster, lawmakers said.

“It’s disconcerting at best that he was allowed to get away with this with no supervision,” said Rep. Tammy Nuccio, R-Tolland. “How does that happen that no one is watching what one person is doing with billions of dollars of taxpayers’ money?”

Nuccio butted heads with Diamantis over a Tolland elementary school project, particularly over the idea that the town was going to hire whomever Diamantis wanted them to hire.

“We were told this is who you are going to hire, and if you don’t, then you won’t get any state money, and there was no one else to go to because Kosta answered to no one,” Nuccio said. “Let’s face it — this is embarrassing for the administration, because this is the guy who they put in this position with no one to watch him.”

Former Connecticut lawmaker and deputy budget director Konstantinos “Kosta” Diamantis exits the U.S. District Court in Hartford after being charged with 22 counts. His attorney, Vincent Provenzano, walks ahead of him.
Shahrzad Rasekh
/
CT Mirror
Former Connecticut lawmaker and deputy budget director Konstantinos “Kosta” Diamantis exits the U.S. District Court in Hartford after being charged with 22 counts. His attorney, Vincent Provenzano, walks ahead of him. 

‘No beggar’

Private messages shared between Diamantis and the construction contractors highlight numerous instances in which Diamantis bemoaned his financial troubles and begged for the promised bribery payments from those companies, all while insisting repeatedly that he was “no beggar.”

In February 2019, after trying unsuccessfully to schedule a meeting with Monarca, the president of Acranom Masonry, and Duffy, its vice president, Diamantis wrote: “I got no call back two days ago now I’m late waited for The courtesy of an answer. I always lived in two way street I always keep my word and do what I say. And I’m no beggar.”

“I have negative in my account. 30 in my pocket,” Diamantis wrote to Duffy in May 2019. The indictment states that Diamantis’ checking account balance at the time was -$276.68.

“I need 5k desperately tomorrow from him or anyone. I don’t care who,” Diamantis added in another message a month later.

In August 2019, Diamantis wrote to Duffy about the money he said Monarca still owed him: “Well I sure need it johnny I am in tough place and should not be … I won’t do a thing til he does rt thing for tolland … I need that coin Johnny like last month.”

At another point, Diamantis pressured Acranom’s executives to attend an event at a restaurant in Southington, where Diamantis was hosting a “fundraiser” to pay for his 14-year-old daughter’s $28,000 tuition at the private Renbrook School in West Hartford.

“The school is not giving out scholarships so we are trying to raise what we can,” Diamantis wrote to the executives. “Every check counts. I would like you to come. The checks can be made out to Renbrook School or to me or my daughter. I sure hope I see you and Johnny there.”

It’s unclear why Diamantis was so short on cash while he was earning more than $167,000 per year in 2019 while he was serving in Gov. Ned Lamont’s administration. His salary later increased to about $180,000 as deputy budget director.

Despite his claimed financial woes, though, Diamantis made significant upgrades to his home in Farmington while he was the head of the school construction office.

Construction permits show those upgrades included a new HVAC system, a renovation of his garage and the construction of a new in-ground swimming pool. Those improvements, which the permits indicate were worth about $40,000, occurred in 2018.

Former Connecticut lawmaker and deputy budget director Konstantinos “Kosta” Diamantis exits the U.S. District Court in Hartford after being charged with 22 counts. His attorney, Vincent Provenzano, is to the right.
Shahrzad Rasekh
/
CT Mirror
Former Connecticut lawmaker and deputy budget director Konstantinos “Kosta” Diamantis exits the U.S. District Court in Hartford after being charged with 22 counts. His attorney, Vincent Provenzano, is to the right. 

The scope of influence

The indictment describes episodes between 2017 and 2021 that reveal the immense power Diamantis had over every aspect of school construction.

Over the past two years, Diamantis repeatedly told the CT Mirror — and federal investigators — that he played no role in deciding which companies were paid to demolish or construct schools.

Federal prosecutors, however, laid out records that showcase the influence he wielded on the local building projects.

One example the indictment cited was from the Weaver High School project in Hartford.

In early 2019, Hartford officials were preparing to hire a masonry company to perform work on the fourth phase of that $133 million project.

The project manager for the high school told Hartford officials they did not want to hire Acranom because of an ongoing billing dispute over the masonry company’s previous work on the project.

But Diamantis allegedly manipulated that hiring decision by refusing to chip in the state funds that were necessary to pay a different masonry contractor that offered to perform the work for $200,000 more than Acranom’s bid.

The project manager at Weaver told Hartford officials that Acranom’s involvement on the project could affect the overall schedule, and they complained that the attempts to sway Diamantis on the hiring decision had been “rebuffed.”

Messages from Acranom’s executives show the company asked Diamantis to force Hartford to hire their company for that $3 million subcontract.

“Please make sure the vote tonight goes to us for Phase 4. Talk to your guy,” Duffy wrote.

“I did already,” Diamantis replied.

It came down to whether you were on Kosta’s good side.
NEW BRITAIN MAYOR ERIN STEWART

Diamantis also allegedly squeezed Hartford officials on another contract for the city’s $170 million Bulkeley High School project.

In that case, he convinced Hartford’s school building committee to select Construction Advocacy Professionals, the company that hired his daughter, to oversee the project even though other contractors offered to perform that work for less money, the indictment claims.

During several meetings, including one at the Capital Grille restaurant in Hartford, Diamantis allegedly pressured Hartford employees to allow Construction Advocacy Professionals to revise its bid so it could win the contract.

The records show city officials eventually went along with that plan and argued the company’s hiring was justified because Construction Advocacy Professionals was a “woman-owned firm.”

Diamantis seemed to relish in his ability to dictate aspects of school construction projects, the messages show. In several instances, Diamantis openly referred to the local schools as “my projects.”

But nowhere was Diamantis’ control more evident than in Tolland, where Birch Grove Elementary was torn down and rebuilt through an emergency contract after cracks were found in the existing school foundation.

The indictment says Diamantis threatened to have Acranom removed as a subcontractor on the Birch Grove Elementary project if the company didn’t pay him tens of thousands of dollars in bribes.

“Bottom line, have him give you 40 for Monday or he is out,” Diamantis wrote to Duffy in August 2019, adding that if Monarca didn’t deliver the “present” then he would cut the company out the following week.

New Britain Mayor Erin Stewart told the CT Mirror that she met with Diamantis once to discuss why New Britain hadn’t received final payments from the state school construction office for some school projects that had been completed 10 years earlier.

“I went to his office with my staff, and he walked in and was completely condescending and rude,” Stewart said. “All I wanted to know was how we could close out some of these projects and get our money, and instead I got lectured by this guy with a Napoleon complex.”

Eventually, Stewart said, the school board hired Construction Advocacy Professionals — without going to bid — to help close the old projects and help finish an update at the high school. Stewart said she was opposed to hiring Construction Advocacy Professionals without a formal bidding process.

“Little did I know the school officials were getting pressured to hire [Construction Advocacy Professionals] by Kosta,” Stewart said.

The FBI eventually contacted her about Construction Advocacy Professionals and Diamantis, but she wasn’t surprised.

“The whole process of how they determined who got school construction money was completely riddled with question marks. You never knew who to talk to or how to get answers,” Stewart said. “It came down to whether you were on Kosta’s good side or whether he deemed your project was worthy.”

Diamantis’ alleged influence extended beyond school construction projects.

In February 2022, the state released a report of an investigation — launched shortly after Diamantis’ state employment ended — into how Chief State’s Attorney Richard Colangelo Jr. came to hire Diamantis’ daughter Anastasia, who had previously been employed at Construction Advocacy Professionals.

The report, authored by former U.S. Attorney Stanley A. Twardy Jr., found that Colangelo hired Anastasia Diamantis at the same time that he was pushing her father, the state’s deputy budget director, to pay salary increases within the Division of Criminal Justice.

Anastasia Diamantis was placed on leave, and Colangelo retired under pressure.

Hearings and audits

The examples cited in the indictment could lend credence to the mountain of accusations that were leveled against Diamantis over the past two years since he was fired from one state job and quit the other.

When the federal investigation of Diamantis burst into public view in early 2022, municipal officials from across Connecticut came forward with stories of Diamantis pressuring them to hire specific contractors.

Republican lawmakers responded, at that time, by calling for hearings and audits into Diamantis’ alleged pressure tactics.

But Lamont’s administration declined to review Diamantis’ interactions with local elected leaders and the local school building committees.

Instead, the Department of Administrative Services spent$240,000 for an auditing firm to analyze 111 school construction projects to make sure the state paperwork for those projects was filled out properly.

The auditors noted that they were instructed not to speak with local officials who oversaw those school construction projects.

“The scope of work for this engagement did not include outreach to the school district, nor did we perform any work on site at the school districts,” the auditors wrote.

Ritter, who has served as House Speaker for three years, said there was clearly a power imbalance between Diamantis and the local school building committees who were relying on the state for a significant portion of their funding.

Ritter said the federal investigation into the school construction office could result in the legislature enacting more administrative and cost controls over that program.

Diamantis’ trial is scheduled to commence on July 23 in Bridgeport.

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.