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February 16, 2022

Top Lamont officials were told of school bidding complaints in 2020

CT-N Konstantinos Diamantis, then director of the Office of School Construction Grants.

A year before the FBI opened its investigation, high-ranking officials in the Lamont administration were told by a demolition contractor that he believed the state Office of Policy and Management was attempting to direct millions of dollars in contracts for local school projects in violation of state law.

From at least April 2020 through February 2021, the president of Stamford Wrecking Company and his lawyer repeatedly pressed complaints that OPM was not following the legally required bidding process for demolition and hazard abatement work and was instead driving work to a small group of contractors on an OPM-approved emergency bid list.

“Any effort by OPM to circumvent the proper public bidding requirements and award a no bid contract from the emergency list would be illegal, a violation of the bid statutes and practices in the State of Connecticut,” Irving Goldblum, the president of Stamford Wrecking, wrote on April 29, 2020.

On October 20, 2021, the FBI subpoenaed records relating to state-financed school construction projects and other construction overseen by Konstantinos Diamantis, who was fired eight days later by the governor’s office as the deputy to OPM Secretary Melissa McCaw.

Diamantis said Tuesday the OPM-approved list was offered to help municipalities save money, not interfere in competitive bidding.

The initial correspondence from Stamford Wrecking, which was obtained by the Connecticut Mirror, was addressed to McCaw and Josh Geballe, then the commissioner of the Department of Administrative Services. The company eventually complained to Attorney General William Tong, whose spokesperson says he referred the matter to “appropriate authorities.”

Governor said he was unaware of complaints

Lamont said Tuesday he acted quickly to remove Diamantis, though not because of concerns over his handling of school construction bidding. The governor said he was unaware of the complaints by Stamford Wrecking about OPM interference in bidding after McCaw hired Diamantis in 2019.

The proximate cause of the Diamantis dismissal was questions over how his daughter, Anastasia Diamantis, obtained a $99,000-a-year job as executive assistant to Chief State’s Attorney Richard Colangelo Jr. 

Lamont said nothing “actionable” about Diamantis had come to his attention prior to a column in The Hartford Courant about the daughter’s hiring. A review of emails by Lamont’s staff discovered that the daughter was hired while Colangelo was lobbying the father and McCaw for help in securing raises for prosecutors.

After removing Diamantis, the governor commissioned an inquiry by Stanley A. Twardy Jr., a former U.S. attorney. Colangelo filed retirement papers, effective March 31, rather than face removal proceedings from the Criminal Justice Commission after Twardy concluded the prosecutor had been untruthful.

“The two folks who looked like they maybe had some serious ethical violations are no longer with us,” Lamont said.

Colangelo and Diamantis have denied any impropriety in the hiring of Anastasia Diamantis, who also had a part-time job with a school construction management company. She was placed on paid leave earlier this month from her state job.

Diamantis, a former Democratic state lawmaker from Bristol, was a holdover from the previous administration, hired in 2015 by Geballe’s predecessor at the Department of Administrative Services as the director of the Office of School Construction Grants & Review.

When McCaw hired Diamantis as her deputy in 2019, the Lamont administration allowed Diamantis to take the school construction function with him to OPM.

Geballe: Complaints were OPM’s concern

Geballe, who took on the additional jobs of chief operating officer in February 2020 and then responsibility for coordinating of the state’s COVID-19 response the following the month, said he did not act on the complaints from Stamford Wrecking, as the school construction office and Diamantis already had moved to OPM and reported to McCaw.

He said he did have at least one conversation with McCaw about whether she was addressing the issue. McCaw, who was out of the office Monday and Tuesday after being diagnosed with COVID for a second time, could not be reached for comment.

Diamantis said in a text message Tuesday that Stamford Wrecking’s complaint was the result of confusion and misinterpretation, not interference.

“It should be made clear that OPM and DAS did not interfere with bidding process through school construction projects,” Diamantis said. “The issue was the use of state contracts by municipalities to include Hazmat abatement to keep our children safe in schools.”

In a statement issued in response to questions from the CT Mirror, the governor’s office said the complaint was resolved with a communication that made clear in March 2021 that municipalities may use hazardous materials abatement contractors from the state list without competitive bidding — but were not required to limit choices to the state bid list.

“When this issue was raised with the Governor’s Office, representatives of the office addressed it directly with Mr. Diamantis,” the office said in a statement not attributed to any individual. “The Governor’s Office also consulted directly with the Attorney General’s Office and a resolution was reached to the satisfaction at that time of the complainant.”

Goldblum could not be reached. His lawyer, Raymond Garcia, declined to comment.

In his April letter, Goldblum said his company was the low bidder on one Groton school project and second-lowest on another, but OPM had pushed the town toward another contractor on the emergency list. Similar concerns were raised about bids for a school project in Manchester.

Diamantis said the state-approved list is intended to lower costs, not favor contractors.

“The fact of the matter is that towns can use state contracts if they choose or they can go out to bid as part of a larger project,” he said.

The clarification of the OPM policy, which was promised in January 2021, went out to all school systems over his signature two months later.

Lamont expresses confidence

The governor proposed a budget last week that includes tax cuts, a projected surplus and program improvements — upbeat talking points. But his public appearances invariably turn to questions about Diamantis and McCaw, the latter of whom the governor insists remains a valued member of his team.

“Oh, absolutely,” Lamont said Tuesday, after announcing he would be leaving Thursday on a trade mission to Israel. “I just traded texts with her. I just wished her the best. She’s had two straight COVID diagnoses.”

Lamont said the public should have confidence in his administration, due to his directions to Twardy and follow-up actions that are planned.

“We said leave no stone unturned, zero tolerance for this type of stuff, follow where it may,” Lamont said. “And that’s what Stan Twardy’s report, you know, showed.”

“We’re hiring auditors, going over all those school projects as well, just to make sure people have confidence that when we see something like this, we act,” Lamont said. “We act fast, zero tolerance.”

When asked how he could still have confidence in McCaw, who supervised Diamantis, the governor said OPM is a challenging agency to run.

“There’s a lot going on in that office,” Lamont said, adding the secretary has “got the deputies, and they report to her. And so I think we all could have done better.”

Lawyer wrote to Attorney General Tong

Goldblum, the president of Stamford Wrecking, eventually hired the New Haven law firm of Garcia & Milas to pursue his complaints. Garcia contacted Tong, the attorney general.

Citing several school construction projects throughout Connecticut, Garcia accused OPM of using its authority over the school grants to steer between $10 million and $20 million in state-financed construction work to a select group of companies.

“We seek your assistance as Attorney General to require OPM and municipalities seeking contribution from the state school reconstruction project to follow the laws of our state and publicly bid all elements of school construction projects,” Garcia wrote in Feb. 2, 2021.

Elizabeth Benton, a spokeswoman for Tong, said the attorney general’s office had several conversations with Garcia about Stamford Wrecking’s concerns and allegations and did eventually refer the information to the “appropriate authorities.”

Tong said Tuesday he could not comment due to pending investigations by his office and federal authorities. He declined to say if his office had made a referral to the FBI.

Building Trades Council memo: ‘This is beyond unorthodox’

Meanwhile, officials with the State Building Trades Council had prepared to confront Lamont about concerns they had with Diamantis at a July 22, 2020 meeting with the governor at a union hall in Hartford.

According to talking points prepared before that meeting, officials with the building trades council planned to tell Lamont that Diamantis had created a “hybrid” method for shopping out bids for state-financed construction work.

“This is beyond unorthodox,” the industry officials noted in preparation for the meeting.

But Diamantis was a secondary issue on a long agenda that was topped by their concerns Lamont was trying to kill a proposed gas-fired energy plant in Killingly, a source of much-need construction jobs. They also wanted to talk about project labor agreements, or PLAs.

“None of that came up,” Lamont said Tuesday when asked about school construction bids. “There was real concern about PLAs. There was real concern about Killingly.”

Two union officials present at the meeting concurred Tuesday with his account.

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