HARTFORD — The city of Hartford Friday filed a sweeping lawsuit against the developers of the failed Dillon Stadium project, accusing them of a fraudulent scheme to "steal city funds" and pocket the money.
The suit also alleges that the developer's insurance agent created a bogus certificate of coverage, indicating the project — and the city — were insured when, the suit claims, no policy was ever issued.
The 47-page suit identifies more than $700,000 the city claims it lost, and seeks triple damages from the defendants, including Mitch Anderson and James Duckett, who were leading the development of the soccer field. The suit also names Anderson's company, Premier Sports Management Group, which was awarded the contract to redevelop Dillon Stadium; Black Diamond Consulting Group, a company run by Duckett; and Bruen Deldin DiDio, the insurance agency that issued the insurance certificate. Two employees of the agency are also named as defendants.
The Courant reported in October that Premier Sports Management Group, also known as PSMG, sought $1 million in reimbursement from the city for work purportedly done by Big Span Structures, a Florida company that manufactures stadium roofs. Three different city development officials signed off on the invoices, and the city paid Premier $700,000 before discovering that Big Span had not done the work for which Premier had billed.
The suit alleges that by submitting the Big Span invoices, the developers "jointly and deliberately schemed to unlawfully obtain funds from the City," and accuses Anderson and Duckett of larceny "by receiving funds that PSMG stole from the City." Those funds were diverted for Anderson's and Duckett's personal use, the suit says, even as Premier lacked sufficient funds to pay subcontractors and others.
In addition to the civil action, a federal grand jury is considering whether any crimes were committed in the stadium debacle.
The suit also accuses Anderson and Duckett of misappropriating money intended for the project's architect, Quisenberry Arcari of Farmington. Quisenberry in December filed suit against Anderson, Duckett and their companies, and a lawyer for the firm has said it is owed about $400,000 — including about $320,000 that Premier allegedly collected from the city but failed to pass on to the architect. That suit is pending.
In September 2014, Premier was awarded a $12 million contract to revive Dillon Stadium in Hartford's Colt Park and attract a professional soccer team to the city. Last year, Anderson joined forces with Duckett, who made an alternate pitch, pledging to spend as much as $50 million on a new soccer stadium if the city paid the cost of clearing the old field. Plans to sign a new contract collapsed after The Courant reported that Duckett had a criminal conviction for embezzlement and outstanding legal judgments in several states.
The 39-count suit seeks relief under multiple legal theories, including that Anderson, Duckett or their companies defrauded a public community, were unjustly enriched, obtained property by false pretenses and engaged in a "conspiracy … to steal City funds."
Duckett said Friday that the charges were "totally false."
"Once my legal past was exposed to the public, I became the perfect fall guy," he said in a text message. "The City nor Mitch Anderson never fulfilled their commitment to Black Diamond Consulting Group or myself to complete the Dillon Stadium Project."
"Remember," Duckett said, "PSMG and the City of Hartford had a contractual relationship long before I was asked to be involved into this project. There is so much to be said about politics... It's definitely time to fight back."
Hartford lawyer William T. Gerace had been representing Anderson but said Friday he is no longer a client. A message left for Anderson was not returned.
The filing of the lawsuit was delayed while city officials worked to unravel questions about insurance coverage for the project. Premier, as required by its contract with the city, submitted a certificate of liability insurance from Bruen Deldin DiDio indicating that the Providence Mutual Fire Insurance Co. had provided millions of dollars in liability insurance to Premier, with the city named as an additional insured. That document names former Bruen employee Scott Hainey as the "producer" of the certificate and is signed by Jeffrey Deldin as an authorized representative of the firm.
That document is dated Sept. 19, 2014, and that same day, according to the suit, Anderson emailed a copy of the certificate to a city official. But the lawsuit alleges that one day earlier, a representative of Providence Mutual emailed a Bruen employee, advising the agency that Providence Mutual would not insure Premier Sports because it could not assess the "exposure that is involved in property development and management of sports arenas, teams or individuals."
The "false" Providence Mutual document was created, the suit alleges, two weeks after Premier was dropped by another insurance company. The suit states that on Sept. 5, 2014, Ohio Mutual canceled its policy with Premier, saying the developer did not meet its underwriting criteria. Even if the liability insurance had been in place, it is unclear if the policy would have covered the losses suffered by the city, or whether that would have required the city to have a performance bond in place.
Garrett Flynn, a lawyer for Bruen Deldin DiDeo, declined comment on the lawsuit Friday, other than to say: "We'll be responding to the city's allegations in court." Hainey, who now works for another agency, said he could not comment on a pending lawsuit.