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Connections Smooth O'Garro's Cash Collection

Some lethal emails revealed by The Courant last week interrupted the genial flow expected in the week ahead. Trouble grows in Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's promiscuous grant-and-loan business.

The public and federal criminal investigators are getting a look at the crony capitalism that infects what should be the fair operation of the state's Department of Economic and Community Development. The story is another dispiriting tale of Hartford insurance broker Earl O'Garro and lobbyist Christopher Cloud.

In early 2012, O'Garro received $126,320 in grants and loans from the state to move his office a few miles from Windsor to Hartford, into a building owned by the Cloud family. The deal was accompanied by an announcement from the Malloy administration ballyhooing O'Garro's business, Hybrid Insurance Group, noting he even had an operation in Kathmandu; that's in exotic, poverty-stricken Nepal. What an international business figure the Clouds and Malloy had discovered in Windsor.

What could go wrong with bright destiny seated next to O'Garro as he wheeled around town in his Maserati? Only everything. One sign of trouble was O'Garro quickly falling behind on his first state loan. Pish posh. Only the little people worry about such trifles. Why not give him more?

In 2013, O'Garro, represented by Cloud, applied for $3.5 million more in state money. A department official, Barbara Fernandez, objected because O'Garro was in arrears on his first loan. In the Malloy administration there are ways to work around inconvenient facts. Cloud, The Courant revealed Wednesday, contacted Ron Angelo, deputy commissioner of the Department of Economic and Community Development.

Immediately after Fernandez delivered the news that O'Garro was not eligible for more public money, Cloud emailed Angelo bemoaning the hurdle in O'Garro's mission to "grow" jobs. "I'll take care of it," was Angelo's swift reply. Angelo didn't mean that he'd make sure that O'Garro brought his loan obligations up to date. Angelo — invested with a public trust as a steward of the taxpayers — meant he'd find a way around the rules.

"Thanks my friend! Have a great weekend!" replied Cloud. So much chumminess between the givers and takers of the public's money. Who says the Malloy administration is all snarls and sneers? Not when you've been raising dough for Malloy's political action committee, as Cloud did. Or maybe it's not when you are president of the nonprofit Greater Hartford Arts Council that hired the governor's wife as its executive director, as Cloud is. It's enough to make you a cynic — as hard as you may try not to be.

What a hard bargainer is Angelo. He got O'Garro to settle for a $500,000 loan. Hardly enough to cover the cost of O'Garro's lavish 2012 Montego Bay, Jamaica, wedding at the Ritz-Carlton. (Astounding photographs are posted on my blog, DailyRuctions.com. Talk about the 1 percent.)

O'Garro received $250,000 of the $500,000 before all that bright promise went so wrong. If you have tears, prepare to shed them for the rest of the story, involving Christopher Cloud's brother, Adam.

Hartford City Treasurer Adam Cloud's wife (who works in for the city's finance department but seems to have had a desk in her husband's office) wired O'Garro almost $900,000 in city funds last summer that were supposed to cover insurance premiums. Most of it, $670,000, has disappeared. O'Garro's been arrested for allegedly not paying employees. Federal investigators are collecting documents and conducting interviews concerning O'Garro's dealings.

We only know part of the story. The emails the Malloy administration turned over to The Courant in response to a request under the Freedom of Information Act were redacted in parts. We also know that the Malloy administration constructed an extensive secret email network outside the state email system. We can never be sure what may have transpired on the secret network. Federal criminal investigators can find out, but they are not subject to FOI requests on these things.

Our legislative leaders will spend Monday and Tuesday nights and Wednesday morning squeezing dough out of lobbyists for their campaign committees. The legislature starts a new session Wednesday and hears the governor lavish praise on himself. Whatever the forecast, there are clouds over the Capitol because, to rework the Department of Children and Families' sloganeering, the Malloy administration has the wrong people in the wrong place, doing the wrong things.

Kevin Rennie is a lawyer and a former Republican state legislator. He can be reached at kfrennie@yahoo.com.

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