Focus Turns To Mansion investigators Subpoena Construction Records

The Hartford Courant

Federal law enforcement officials sharpened their investigative focus on Gov. John G. Rowland this week, serving a grand jury subpoena demanding all records of construction and renovations to the governor's mansion in Hartford for the past eight years.

The subpoena -- requiring that records dating back to Jan. 1, 1996, be produced for a grand jury session on Tuesday -- landed Monday at the office of the state Department of Public Works, which handles the operation and maintenance of what is officially known as the Executive Residence.

The governor's office pledged cooperation with the subpoena and released a copy of it Wednesday in response to a freedom of information request.

It is the first subpoena that specifically focuses on the governor's state-owned residence, but not the first having to do with a home he occupies. Federal officials already had served subpoenas and questioned individuals -- although not the governor himself -- during the past month in connection with renovations at Rowland's privately owned lakeside cottage in Litchfield.

Those investigative efforts came after a Nov. 25 Courant story raised questions about the cottage improvements performed since 1997 -- and it appears that this week's subpoena on the mansion improvements may be connected to issues arising from that.

Two subcontractors who worked at Rowland's Bantam Lake cottage told The Courant they were informed that if they billed the work at a reduced rate, it could lead to state work in the future -- possibly at the governor's mansion.

So, since the subpoena seeks any ``contracts and agreements'' for work at the mansion, one reason for that demand apparently is to check if anyone who worked on the cottage also received a contract to work on the mansion.

A number of individuals and companies provided help on the Litchfield cottage renovations; some of the work was done for free, and some on a deferred-payment basis.

Rowland has denied that anyone who worked on his Litchfield cottage received any promises or benefits.

The two subcontractors on the Litchfield cottage who said they were told they might get future state work -- Robert Bilodeau Jr. of Bristol and Glenn Lauzier of Winsted -- said no state jobs ever materialized for them.

They said the suggestion of future work came from Brian Baker, a Southington contractor who is a personal friend of Rowland's and has declined all comment.

Rowland and his wife, Patricia, paid Baker $10,000 in 1997 for work at the cottage, but belatedly sent another check for nearly $5,000 in October -- more than six years after the work was completed, when The Courant began checking into rumors circulating about the improvements.

Rowland's office said Wednesday that all documents would be turned over to the authorities.

``The governor has directed all agencies to make every effort to comply with the subpoenas and to cooperate with the government's investigation,'' said Ross Garber, Rowland's legal counsel.

Asked for his reaction to the probe's intensifying focus on the governor himself -- after about a year of more general investigation by federal officials into alleged bid-rigging in his administration -- Garber declined comment.

The new subpoena comes while lawmakers are talking about impeaching Rowland and after several newspapers have called for him to resign.

Rowland's political difficulties escalated after The Courant's Nov. 25 cottage story until his admission on Dec. 12 that he had lied previously when claiming that he paid for all the cottage work himself. He acknowledged that, in reality, he had received major favors on the cottage from friends and others -- including former high-ranking staff members and a contractor who are believed to be subjects of a federal grand jury investigation into bid-rigging in his administration.

Rowland's problems grew further two weeks ago, when The Courant and The New York Times disclosed his involvement between 1996 and 2001 in a real estate investment venture called First Development Group LLC.

Rowland made $60,000 on a $7,200 investment in that venture. One of his three partners in it was Anthony R. Cocchiola, whose Watertown paving firm provided $2,000 of work at the Litchfield cottage in 1997, delivering topsoil. The Rowlands did not pay until September 2003. Cocchiola's company got $900,000 in state work after he went into business with the governor, and his daughter was hired in a state job.

Another Rowland partner in First Development Group LLC was Waterbury lawyer Michael H. Cicchetti. Cicchetti has long served as Rowland's personal lawyer, and he helped with legal and payment arrangements on the governor's Litchfield cottage project. Two Cicchetti children were hired in state jobs -- and a state patronage hiring list kept by the governor's office, obtained by The Courant, listed Rowland as the sponsor for their appointments.

All told, thousands of pages of documents have been subpoenaed in the federal corruption investigation from numerous state agencies. The probe already has netted a guilty plea -- in March, from Rowland's former deputy chief of staff, Lawrence Alibozek, who admitted to accepting bribes in exchange for steering state work to a contractor identified by sources as The Tomasso Group of New Britain.

Meanwhile, in recent weeks, federal investigators also have subpoenaed all computer hard drives used by Theresa D. Supple, a former supervising project manager with the state Department of Public Works. Supple, who committed suicide on May 5, 2003, was deeply involved in the award of millions of dollars in state construction projects to businesses associated with the politically connected Tomasso family in New Britain.

Rowland has acknowledged that employees of one Tomasso-controlled company did free gutter and drainage work on his cottage. Tomasso is a central focus of the burgeoning federal grand jury probe into bid-rigging by the Rowland administration. Others who provided free work or helped pay for improvements at the cottage now are believed to be under scrutiny in the federal probe.

Meanwhile Wednesday, a Rowland spokesman said the governor hopes to meet with legislative leaders next week to discuss his political difficulties. Rowland sent an e-mail to the lawmakers, proposing a meeting in his Capitol office next Tuesday -- coincidentally the same day as the scheduled grand jury meeting.

Democratic leaders said Tuesday they wanted to meet with the governor before they consider moving forward with impeachment or any other action.

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