HARTFORD — State House Republicans' chief of staff George Gallo resigned Thursday amid a federal investigation into whether GOP legislative candidates were improperly directed to use a Florida direct-mail and printing company — which received as much as $2 million from their campaigns since 2008, records show.
Gallo quit his $150,000-a-year state job Thursday after acknowledging that he was a "person of interest" in the federal probe and didn't want to cause "unwarranted distractions" for Republican members of the state House of Representatives.
At least four FBI agents set up shop Wednesday in a room inside the House Republicans' suite of offices at the Legislative Office Building, sources said. Among the lawmakers they interviewed were those whose campaigns in recent years had paid for the services of Direct Mail Systems Inc., of Clearwater, Florida, according to the sources.
Among the agents' questions was whether the legislators had been steered to the Florida company, sources said. The investigators continued their work in the building Thursday.
Direct Mail Systems' vice president and CEO, Mike Milligan, did not return a call for comment Thursday.
The firm's services include campaign mailings and printing of get-out-the-vote fliers, candidate palm cards and other election materials. Scores of Republican candidates, mostly for the state House, used the Florida company for their campaigns, according to state campaign financing records on file with the State Elections Enforcement Commission.
Republican legislative campaigns have paid about $2 million to Direct Mail Systems in the past six years, records show.
Subpoenas were served on the House Republican office, the House Republican Campaign Committee and the General Assembly's Office of Legislative Management. The Courant has requested copies of the subpoenas.
"Our caucus is cooperating fully with the federal inquiry into House Republican activities," House GOP leader Larry Cafero said in a statement Thursday afternoon. "Federal officials have also asked that we refrain from divulging details of the investigation to the public and press, to the extent that we become aware of them."
Cafero added: "The Democratic and Republican leaders of the Legislative Management Committee also met today and have agreed to comply fully with all relevant federal and state statutes as well as requests filed under the Freedom of Information Act with respect to the subpoenas."
The exact focus of the criminal investigation is unknown. Although the probe was first disclosed by Courant columnist Kevin Rennie, it has been in progress for weeks, sources said. FBI Special Agent Daniel Curtin acknowledged the agents' presence at the Capitol, but declined to discuss details of the pending investigation.
Gallo, the House GOP caucus' chief of staff who resigned Thursday, has been involved in supervising a number of Republican legislative campaigns that have used the Florida company.
The company is a leader in a competitive industry in which candidates and political parties seek the best prices, former state GOP Chairman Chris Healy said Thursday. Many Republican candidates used it because "we got a better deal," Healy said. "Direct mail is targeting, sorting, messaging. It's way more sophisticated. They do it all from concept to delivery.''
Gallo was unavailable for comment Thursday, but Cafero said in his statement that Gallo "today offered his opinion that he is a person of interest of the investigation. As such, he indicated that he did not want to cause unwarranted distractions to the caucus that would take away from their legislative duties."
"For that reason, and for personal family considerations, he tendered his resignation and it was accepted, effective at midnight tonight," Cafero said. "George has served ... honorably and with the highest level of professional standards since 2007. He will be missed."
Gallo, 45, has had his own political consulting firm, The Vinco Group LLC, since 2003. House Republican political action committees have made payments to Vinco in recent years, records show. Gallo was chairman of the state Republican Party from 2005 to 2007, and managed ex-Gov. John G. Rowland's last re-election campaign in 2002. He became chief of staff for House Republicans in 2006.
Gallo has retained Hartford criminal defense attorney Hubert Santos, who declined to comment Thursday.