A Connecticut electrical contractor whose serial felonies have made him an enduring figure in the scandal that unseated former governor John G. Rowland, is going back to prison, yet again.
Kurt Claywell plied Rowland with thousand dollar bottles of wine and Cuban cigars through the 1990s, while growing wealthy on contracts at big public works projects, such as the Connecticut Juvenile Training School, a courthouse in Stamford, the Hartford Public Library, the University of Connecticut and the U.S. Naval Submarine Base.
But it is not gifts that have made Claywell a near continuous law enforcement target; in fact, he cooperated with an investigation of Rowland. Rather, prosecutors and others say he has become an unrelenting tax cheat and fraud artist.
Claywell has been sentenced four times since 2000. U.S. District Judge Alvin W. Thompson made it five on Tuesday when he ordered Claywell back to prison for a year — not on a new criminal case, but for violating the conditions of his release after his last conviction and imprisonment. It was the maximum allowable sentence for such a violation.
“I won’t be concerned with deterrence,” assistant U.S. Attorney John T. Pierpont told Thompson during the drawn-out argument preceding the sentencing, “because as far as the government is concerned, Mr. Claywell cannot be deterred.”
A dozen years and two convictions ago, another prosecutor, William Nardini, described Claywell during an earlier sentencing hearing as “thoroughly, even defiantly, unrepentant,” “beyond rehabilitation” and engaged in a “never ending parade of tax and fraud schemes.”
After imposing the latest sentence, Thompson sounded concerned that Claywell might contrive to commit some new offense in the month he has before he is required to report to prison.
“If Mr. Claywell - and I’ll put it in simple terms — pulls anything between now and Feb. 13, there will be consequences,” Thompson said. “I am making that very clear.”
In addition to prison sentences, Claywell, 65, has been running up fines and orders of restitution. He has a balance of $234,000 and authorities complain he has concealed assets in order to avoid making payments.
In particular, the U.S. Attorney’s office said it cannot account for about $220,00 prosecutors said Claywell appears to have had in real estate and in a bank account. Claywell said through his lawyer, Moira Buckley, that he used the money for living expenses.
Claywell was released from his last felony conviction – he served five years and was ordered to pay $86,000 in restitution for bankruptcy fraud – on Oct. 17, 2014. There were conditions that, if violated over three years, could result in his return to prison. Among other things he was required to report periodically on his finances to probation officers, cooperate with the IRS, pay down fines and restitution and get permission before opening new credit cards or lines of credit.
For two and a half years, he reported that he was unemployed, existing on social security and the generosity of his children.
Federal prosecutors learned later that Claywell was in violation of the conditions within three months of release. Court records show he was apparently undone early in 2017, when the state police ran a vehicle check and reported to probation officers that Claywell had registered a BMW in his name.
Federal prosecutors said that Claywell financed the auto with a $41,000 loan – a loan he failed to clear in advance with probation, as required by the conditions of his release. It was revealed also that he had opened three bank accounts without permission and that one carried an average balance between $40,000 and $60,000.
What’s more, authorities learned that, within months of his release, Claywell’s electric business had been reconfigured as a consulting company, nominally under the control of two if his children, a 17-year old daughter and 20-year old son, both students, according to filings in court.
Claywell lived, the records allege, in a rented, four-bedroom, 2.5 bathroom, 3,500-square foot home on an acre and one-half lot in Burlington – until he moved to another rental, what a real estate service describes as a seven bedroom, five bathroom, 5,000-square foot, two century old federal colonial with a detached cottage on an acre in Woodbury.
Last summer, Claywell was ordered to submit to questioning about his finances by federal prosecutors, who were interested in, among other things, whether he had money that could be applied to fines and restitution. Claywell claimed in the interview that he worked part time for his children at the reconfigured business and they were paying his rent and all other living expenses.
Thompson found, in short order, that Claywell violated the conditions of his release by concealing the bank accounts and the car loan and ordered him back to prison.
Claywell’s first encounter with federal prosecutors was in 2000 when he was convicted of pilfering $400,000 from his employees’ pension funds and spending it on himself. He was sentenced to two years of probation, six months of home confinement and fined $10,000.
Less than a year later, in 2001, the FBI and IRS were back at his office with search warrants. What followed was a 31-count indictment charging him with an array of tax and other frauds.
Claywell was accused of paying some employees off the books, while deducting taxes from the salaries of others and keeping the money. He inserted his father – an elderly, infirm and retired journeyman electrician - as a no-show employee on government contracts in order to make it appear that Claywell was complying with work rules about the ratio of apprentice to journeymen electricians on jobs.
The government also accused Claywell of using his father to steal $150,000 from the Travelers Insurance Cos. Claywell told Travelers that he was paying thousands of dollars a month to keep his father at a nursing home from 1993 to 2003 and arranged to receive reimbursement checks. In reality, prosecutors said the elder Claywell was in the nursing home for only about three months.
Much of the indictment focused on a tax scheme by which Claywell avoided personal income tax by diverting enormous sums of money from his business to personal use.
Using diverted money, Claywell, built two homes, renovated what prosecutors called a luxurious a lake house and paid his children’s private school tuitions. He accounted for a $50,000 ski boat as generators for the Stamford courthouse and wrote–off a $50,000 birthday bash for his wife against the Rowland administration’s ill-fated youth prison, the Connecticut Juvenile Training Center.
From 1996 to 2000, prosecutors said he diverted more than $1 million to, among other things, $12,000 of purchases at a gourmet market, $4,000 in Persian rugs, $27,000 for a jet boat dock for his ski boat and $37,000 for landscaping.
In March 2006, Thompson sentenced Claywell to five years in prison, three years of supervised release and a $100,000 fine.
Seven months later, Claywell was indicted for conspiracy to commit bankruptcy fraud. The indictment charged that, a year before he was sentenced in the prior case, Claywell had begun scheming to hide assets.
Among other things, Claywell hid 962 bottles of rare wine valued at $24,000 at the home of a friend and used another 100 bottles worth $11,000 to make gift baskets, according to court records. The same year, he acquired 35 acres of land in Barkamstead for $169,000, but did not record the deed. He handed his rare gun collection over to a dealer, who agreed to sell it on consignment. Prosecutors said he also dumped money into custodial accounts for his children and talked with an unidentified woman about how to hide his ski boat, rare books, rugs, furniture, paintings and other furnishings.
Claywell said nothing in court Tuesday. Afterward, he drove off in his BMW with vanity license plates bearing the initials of the consulting business he claims is run by his children.