James C. Duckett Jr. now has something he truly earned: Three years in prison.
The story of Mr. Duckett's fraudulent bid to renovate Hartford's dilapidated Dillon Stadium ended Wednesday with his sentencing in federal court, although the tale will endure as a shameful part of Hartford lore.
It began nearly three years ago, when Mr. Duckett got involved in an effort to bring professional soccer to Hartford. Mr. Duckett claimed he was a former NFL player. He said he had access to millions of dollars. He promised the moon.
Hartford officials bought it and were soon writing checks that they thought the company created for the project, Premier Sports Management Group, would cover. That blunder cost the city $1 million and cost its development director his job.
Prosecutors said Mr. Duckett used the money to buy a Range Rover and other luxury items.
It didn't have to happen this way. A little due diligence by city officials at the time could have revealed that Mr. Duckett had a conviction for embezzlement, that he was the subject of a number of lawsuits, and that his NFL claims were bunk. But the city, at the time under the leadership of former Mayor Pedro Segarra, was so hungry for a victory that it became recklessly gullible. They let themselves be duped.
Mr. Duckett's conviction and sentencing — which could have put him behind bars for as much as five years — doesn't completely close the books on the deal. The city is still out a substantial amount of cash, and it's an open question if it will ever be able to recover everything it lost from Mr. Duckett and Mitchell Anderson, his partner at the time, who pleaded guilty earlier this year and awaits sentencing.
But in the meantime, what is to become of Dillon Stadium? Three developers have expressed interest, and the Capital Region Development Authority last week came out in favor of a plan that would require a $10.7 million public subsidy.
More public money? For another stadium?
Bruce Mandell, the developer who pitched the idea that garnered CRDA's support, told The Courant: "We're going to have to be very open and clear with the city and with the people to make sure that we earn their trust ... Coming out of the last episode, everybody's going to be very skeptical."
To say the least.
There's no doubt that Dillon Stadium could be an asset, as it occupies a key bit of real estate between I-91 and the growing Coltsville area. At the moment, the stadium is consumed by weeds, and if it's going to become a legitimate attraction, it will need a lot of love — and a lot of money.
But that doesn't necessarily mean public money. Be careful, city leaders. Do your homework this time.