In a state where one disgraced politician after another has dived back into politics after leaving prison, Connecticut’s top crime fighter vowed Wednesday to keep a sharp eye out for corruption.
Ex-offenders deserve second chances, said the prosecutor, U.S. Attorney Deirdre M. Daly (pictured). But crooked politicians “might well be an exception.”
Daly made the remark during a noon press conference held at her Church Street office to announce formation of a Connecticut Public Corruption Task Force “to investigate corrupt public officials, the misuse of public funds and related criminal activity.” The task force, based in Meriden, includes agents from includes the FBI, postal service, IRS, and inspector general’s offices of the U.S. departments of Health and Human Services and of Housing and Urban Development.
“We want people in prison to come back into society and have some chance of success,’’ said Daly. “Public officials who breach the public trust, she added, “might be in a somewhat different category.”
The task force, which has been operating since fall, has its work cut out for it in a state that has had enough scandals at its highest echelons to be dubbed “Corrupticut” by some, “Louisiana with foliage” by others.
With no end in sight. Just last week the Hartford Courant felt compelled to run a “Please Don’t Run” editorial asking former Bridgeport Mayor Joseph P. Ganim to abandon plans he had been nursing to make another run for public office. Ganim was sentenced to nine years in prison in 2003 for taking numerous bribes and favors in exchange for access to his office, when he was mayor.
“For some reason, Connecticut does have an unfortunate history,’’ Patricia M. Ferrick (pictured), special agent in charge of the FBI’s Connecticut office, acknowledged at the press conference. “This being the case, the agencies on the task force are not new to working public corruption matters.’’
Daly added, “It is somewhat discouraging because over the last decade there have been a number of high-profile corruption cases in Connecticut and yet, corruption persists at many levels.”
“So the time has come to put together top-notch team and to reach out to public,’’ she said.
Christopher M. Mattei is heading the new task force. Mattei is one of the assistant U.S. attorneys who successfully prosecuted former Gov. John G. Rowland in September for conspiring to conceal his role in two Congressional races, schemes he pursued after his release from prison for crimes he committed while in office.
Two assistant U.S. attorneys, Liam Brennan, who aided Mr. Mattei at Rowland’s trial, and Sarah Karwan, have also been assigned to the task force.
William Offord (pictured), special agent in charge of the I.R.S.’s criminal division for New England, said his agency has two especially powerful tools that can be used in crackdowns on financial crimes: the ability to charge wrongdoers with tax evasion, if they fail to report income, and with money-laundering, if they attempt to conceal their tracks.
“It comes down to greed,’’ he said. “Public officials who fail to report the money they make from any sort of scheme they’re perpetrating, if that is not on a federal tax return, that is tax evasion.”
And, he continued, “anytime a corrupt public official engages in those transactions to conceal their crime that is a money laundering violation.”
According to Daly, the task force has already been responsible for “the speedy arrest” of a former finance director of the town of Plymouth, Connecticut. He stands accused of embezzling more than $800,000 of taxpayer money from town coffers, money he spent on mortgage payments, credit card bills and home improvement projects as well as the purchase of coins, stamps and other collectibles.
The law enforcement group is also keen on policing the disbursement of $150 million in federal funds that Connecticut received to help rebuilding efforts after Hurricane Sandy, according to Christina Scaringi (pictured), special agent in charge of the Inspector General’s office that monitors the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in the Northeast.
The task force encourages members of the public to call 1-800-CALL-FBI with any tips they have for law enforcement. The hot line will be staffed round the clock and callers may speak anonymously, according to Daly.
She said it was probably not a coincidence that federal law enforcement is so busy in Connecticut given that state prosecutors have limited powers to conduct investigations via a grand jury. “It does trouble me,’’ she said. “In fact, I don’t know if there are any other states in the nation that are hamstrung in that way. As you know many of our cases are only resolved because of our work in the grand jury, and that is not limited to corruption but also homicide.
“So I think it is really a deficit in this state” that state prosecutors’ “ability to even subpoena phone records, something as simple as that makes, their job more difficult.’’