Republican lawmakers ramped up their rhetoric surrounding allegations of wrongdoing in Gov. Ned Lamont’s budget office Wednesday, calling for legislative inquiry into school construction contracts.
Leaders of both Republican caucuses made separate appeals for scrutiny of construction contracts involving Kosta Diamantis, a former deputy secretary in the Office of Policy and Management, who was fired by the administration in October as the FBI began investigating his management of state contracts including those related to school projects.
During a press conference, House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora said the legislature should convene a committee of inquiry to conduct its own review of those contracts. He suggested the legislature model its inquiry on the legislative committee that investigated former Republican Gov. John G. Rowland, who resigned amidst a contracting scandal in 2004.
“We saw this entire building come to a screeching halt and an investigation being conducted over those emails,” Candelora said of the Rowland scandal. “We have accusations of millions of dollars flying out the door with no-bid contracts. I would hope my Democrat colleagues would show the same interest in that money flying out the door as they did with a Republican governor.”
In a letter to Democratic leaders of both legislative chambers, Senate Minority Leader Kevin Kelly renewed his calls for legislative hearings to question administration officials on the school construction financing program.
“Connecticut has a responsibility to ensure that taxpayer sacrifices are always respected,” Kelly and Sen. Paul Formica, R-East Lyme, said in a Wednesday letter. “The legislature must seek transparency and demand answers for the people we represent.”
At a Tuesday event in Hartford, Lamont told reporters legislators were free to conduct hearings on school contracts, saying, “if they want a public hearing, they can have a public hearing, sure.”
Lamont said he first became aware of the Diamantis scandal in October when Hartford Courant columnist Kevin Rennie published an article on Diamantis, stemming from Chief State’s Attorney Richard Colangelo’s decision to hire his daughter, Anastasia, while seeking raises from OPM. Lamont fired Diamantis soon after and Colangelo has since resigned. The administration also commissioned an independent investigation conducted by former U.S. Attorney Stanley Twardy.
“We said, ‘Leave no stone unturned. Zero tolerance for this type of stuff,” Lamont said.
But two news reports this week suggest that top Lamont advisors were made aware as early as 2020 of allegations that Diamantis was violating state contracting laws.
On Tuesday, Rennie published a July 2020 memo from the Connecticut State Building Trades Council, which included concerns about Diamantis on the agenda to discuss with the governor. Meanwhile, on Wednesday, the CT Mirror reported that a contractor, Stamford Wrecking Company, had taken claims that Diamantis was skirting contract bidding laws to administration officials as far back as April 2020.
On Tuesday, Lamont said he was unaware of the concerns about Diamantis, which the labor union planned to raise, according to its memo.
“None of that came up,” he said, later adding, “I don’t remember anything related to Kosta, maybe something about [project labor agreements], but nothing rose to my level where it was actionable.”
In a statement, House Speaker Matt Ritter called transparency a paramount concern when it comes to spending public dollars.
“The governor has said he would support legislative hearings and I will talk with him, our committee chairs and ranking members to get everyone’s thoughts and perspectives,” Ritter said.
During a press conference earlier this week, Senate President Martin Looney called the ongoing federal investigation involving Diamantis a “grave concern.” Asked whether he would favor legislative hearings on school construction contracts, Looney did not rule them out.
“I think at some point,” he said. “It’s too soon to say how actually they would be structured but, I think obviously the whole process will need airing at some point.”
Looney also called for “building up the resources, staffing and capacity” of the State Contracting Standards Board, a watchdog entity which, according to a Wednesday CT Mirror report, the governor’s budget proposal would curtail.