COLUMN

Feds Interested In 'Business As Usual'

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While most people were donning frightful masks last week to mark Halloween, state Democratic Party chairwoman Nancy DiNardo slipped — revealing her ugly philosophy of politics.

"In politics, nobody does something for nothing," DiNardo said, according to the Connecticut Post. DiNardo was furious and surly over a Bridgeport Democrat endorsing a Trumbull Republican in a local contest, which is what elicited her twisted worldview.

The Trumbull Democrat believes everybody's in it for some selfish reason. Community service, a desire to add to the commonweal — these notions are foreign to the leader of the state Democratic Party.

DiNardo has been imposing her narrow creed as one of Democratic and Working Families Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's fundraising enforcers. The emphasis has been on shaking down people who do business with state government. That kind of daily grind will harden the place most people have a heart.

This was not the best week for DiNardo to spew her thoughts on why people in politics do what they do. Federal law enforcement agents may take her at her word. They have been busy in Hartford lately, and experience tells us they look for others who share DiNardo's dark notion. The feds, however, seek to prosecute it, not profit from it.

What fertile ground federal authorities will be plowing in Hartford as they follow the trail of $670,000 in missing city funds that were sent by City Treasurer Adam Cloud's office in July to beleaguered Hartford insurance agency operator Earl O'Garro. It is a puzzling tale of connections and the capital city's pervasive culture of deals. In other words, a festival of possibilities for federal law enforcement officials looking to make a name in the wild world of public corruption.

On Wednesday, city officials released a subpoena seeking many documents on dealings between Cloud and others with O'Garro and his Hybrid Insurance Group between January 2011 and now. The FBI may need reinforcements from Washington once people who know things start chirping.

O'Garro hired Christopher Cloud, Adam Cloud's brother, to do some lobbying for him. Ethics records indicate that was after O'Garro received a $126,320 grant and loan package from the state's Department of Economic and Community Development to move from Windsor to a building in Hartford owned by the Cloud family.

Christopher Cloud and O'Garro are on the board of the Greater Hartford Arts Council. That's the organization that hired Cathy Malloy, wife of the governor, as its executive director in 2011.

O'Garro has cut a dashing figure in Hartford and its tonier environs. People notice when you are driving around this small town in a Maserati.

The state loan to O'Garro's insurance agency, you will be disappointed to read, is in default. How he got that state funding to move a few miles from Windsor to the Clouds' building ought to pique the interest of federal investigators. This is where others, higher up the line of political command, start to feel danger approaching.

These federal grand jury criminal investigations are easily expanded. A prosecutor needs little pretext to take a promising morsel of information derived from one part of an investigation and turn it into a buffet of additional subpoenas on other issues. The Rowland investigation did not start out as a search for ill-gotten gold coins buried in a state official's backyard.

A look at the connections among state grants, loans and bonding, lobbyists, state officials and family members will provide some startling examples of the noxious DiNardo rule for federal investigators. What to insiders looks like just doing business as usual in the entitlement bubble can appear tawdry and lawless to an outsider charged with prosecuting corruption. The link between state assistance and favors that may precede or follow it is an irresistible and often productive path of inquiry for law enforcement.

This is serious. Hartford, though at first reluctant, had to release a copy of its subpoena because the city is subject to the state's Freedom of Information Act. Private emails, financial transactions and phone records make their way to investigators without public scrutiny. That comes in dramatic moments at courthouses.

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

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Andy Green, the opinion editor, has taken the "know a little bit about everything" approach in his time at The Sun. He was the city/state editor before coming to the editorial board, and prior to that he covered the State House and Baltimore County government.

Tricia Bishop, the deputy editorial page editor, was a reporter in the business and metro sections covering biotechnology, education and city and federal courts prior to joining the board.

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