State police arrested influential state Sen. Thomas P. Gaffey, D- Meriden, on larceny charges Monday, accusing him of double-billing the state and his political action committee for expenses associated with attending legislative conferences throughout the country — several times with his girlfriend.
Gaffey, 51, a 16-year veteran and deputy president pro tempore of the Senate, turned himself in to state police in Hartford, two days before he would have been sworn in for his ninth term. He was charged by the office of Chief State's Attorney Kevin Kane with six counts of sixth-degree larceny.
Kane's office said in a warrant that on six occasions, from 2004 to 2007, Gaffey sought and received travel expense reimbursement from the Government Action Fund, a political action committee that he headed. He also was reimbursed for the travel costs by the state legislature, according to the chief state's attorney's office.
The duplicate reimbursements ranged from $100 to $1,209, and totaled $2,800, according to the chief state's attorney's office.
His girlfriend at the time, Patricia Murphy, told an investigator that Gaffey said that on the trips they took, "the PAC would pay his share and that he would pay for her," the arrest warrant application said.
"It is with profound sadness and deep regret that I have decided, despite having recently been re-elected to my ninth term as the State Senator from the 13th District (which includes Meriden, Middletown (part) and Cheshire (part), that I will exit from the political arena and will not take the oath of office on January 5, 2011," he said. "I will be submitting a letter to the Secretary of [the] State notifying her of my decision in accordance with state statute."
Gaffey is expected to plead guilty to the larceny charges at Superior Court in Hartford on Wednesday — the day that incoming members of the state Senate are scheduled to take their oaths of office at the state Capitol.
Gaffey's double dipping was investigated initially by the State Elections Enforcement Commission, which fined him $6,000 in 2009 as part of an agreement to settle its administrative case against him. That agency then referred the matter to state prosecutors for a criminal investigation. During the elections enforcement investigation, Gaffey reimbursed his political action committee about $2,000.
As part of the elections enforcement settlement, Gaffey dissolved the political action committee, resulting in the forfeiture of more than $10,000 that was controlled by the committee.
Sixth-degree larceny is a Class C misdemeanor, punishable by up to three months of incarceration and a $500 fine on each count.
Gaffey said that he cooperated with the elections enforcement investigation, which began in January 2008. He said he takes "full responsibility for mistakes that were made."
"In December 2010 it became clear that the State's Attorney would also proceed with the matter," Gaffey said in his statement. "A resolution of the case was not worked out until very recently. Under the agreement, on January 5, 2011, I will be entering a guilty plea to misdemeanors and will agree to perform one hundred hours of community service."
"Under the terms of the plea agreement, there is nothing to prevent me from continuing as the State Senator from the 13th District," he said. "My family, friends and community have already endured a process which has spanned three years. If I were to remain in office, they would inevitably have to endure an ongoing political controversy for years to come. I will not ask them to do so."
The chief state's attorney's office would not comment on whether Gaffey's decision to resign softened the terms of his plea agreement.
Gaffey offered no hint of impending trouble as he sought voters' support during the past election year and defeated Republican opponent Len Suzio by a comfortable margin of 58 percent to 42 percent.
But in June, an investigator for Kane e-mailed Courant staff writer Amanda Falcone to say that he "would like to speak with you about an interview you conducted a while back." He was referring to a story that Falcone wrote about Gaffey in early 2009, when she was a reporter for the Meriden Record-Journal. Falcone declined to comment to the investigator.
Gaffey, when asked about the inquiry a few weeks later, said he knew nothing. "I certainly haven't been called by anybody from that agency," he said. "The matter has been lying dormant for more than a year, and nobody from there has called me."
That obviously changed.
Gaffey, who was seen as Senate President Pro Tem Donald Williams' right-hand man, has long served as the co-chairman of the General Assembly's education committee. He is employed full-time as director of recycling and enforcement at the state's quasi-public trash agency, the Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority.
This is not Gaffey's first expense-billing problem. In 2002, he and another state legislator, then employed by the trash agency, collected state legislators' mileage reimbursements for their trips to and from their homes to Hartford in trash agency vehicles, but lagged thousands of dollars behind in reimbursing the trash agency for their personal mileage on the same vehicles.
State GOP Chairman Chris Healy had requested the investigation by Kane's agency, and on Monday, another top Republican, Senate Minority Leader John P. McKinney of Fairfield, said: "The crimes Sen. Gaffey committed and will plead guilty to, as well as his prior violations of state elections law, undermine the public trust placed in elected officials. His resignation is the first step toward repairing that trust."
State Sen. Thomas Gaffey Charged With Larceny, Says He Will Resign
Sen. Thomas Gaffey said he will plead guilty to larceny charges, and resign from the state legislature. (HANDOUT PHOTO)