Consultant on New London Pier project fined $10,000 by CT Ethics Office
The Office of State Ethics on Tuesday fined a New York-based consulting firm $10,000 for providing more than $3,000 in food and gifts – including hockey tickets and an overnight stay at a club of Greenwich – to Connecticut Port Authority officials in 2017 and 2019.
Seabury Maritime, a subsidiary of Seabury Capital Group, provided some of these freebies while continuing a business relationship with the authority, and others after winning a contract to help find an operator for the state pier in New London, according to the consent order signed by Seabury and the state Ethics Office.
Seabury also came under fire this year from another state agency. The State Contracting Standards Board concluded in February that a $523,000 “success” commission the Port Authority paid Seabury in May 2018 is eerily similar to the “finder’s fee” scandal that sent a former state treasurer in prison in 2001.
“Private companies seeking to engage state and quasi-state agencies for contracts should understand that fostering goodwill with state officials and employees may not involve the provision of impermissible gifts,” said Peter Lewandowski, executive director of the ethics office. “Violation of the Code’s gift laws will be vigorously prosecuted by the State Ethics Office.”
Between May and August 2017, Seabury provided gifts totaling approximately $800, the ethics office wrote in a statement. This included “food, drink and a personal leather accessory for an CPA employee and the employee’s spouse at a charity event” in May that year, and more food and drinks and an overnight stay at a club in Greenwich for the same couple in August. Food and drink was also provided to a member of the authority’s board of directors in August, according to the state ethics office.
The State Ethics Office does not identify individuals named in a consent order who are not subject to that order. The office also does not say whether any other people mentioned are themselves the subject of another investigation.
In 2019, after securing a contract to advise the authority, Seabury Capitol provided an additional $2,300 in freebies, according to the report. These included food, drink and a leather handbag for an authority employee and that employee’s spouse in April, and food, drink and National Hockey League tickets for two authority employees in May 2019.
The Ethics Office added that “Prior to the initiation of this ethics case, Seabury received reimbursement from beneficiaries for the cost of hockey tickets and food and beverage on May 9, 2019.”
But because those items were not refunded within 30 days of receipt, as required by state law, the gifts were still a violation. Seabury’s other donations in 2017 and 2019 were not repaid by recipients.
State law “prohibits any person from knowingly, directly or indirectly, giving gifts to a public official or employee of the state when that person does business or seeks to do business with such public official or that state employee’s agency or department”.
The authority hired Seabury in May 2018 to help find a state pier operator in New London. The new operator would help turn the pier into a staging area for a major offshore wind energy project.
The authority made a $700,000 payout to Seabury which included a ‘success’ or reward bonus of $523,000 – and it came three months after Henry Juan III of Greenwich, who was chief executive of Seabury, has resigned from the Board of Directors.
The state procurement board adopted a report in February comparing such success fees to the “finder’s fee” that the General Assembly banned more than two decades ago. The ban follows a scandal in the late 1990s that sent then-state treasurer Paul Silvester to jail.
Silvester, a Republican from West Hartford, was sentenced to 21 months in prison after he admitted accepting bribes, often referred to as “finder’s fees,” in exchange for steering government-controlled pension fund investments. ‘State.
Jeffrey Erickson, who signed Tuesday’s ethics consent order as Seabury’s acting chief financial officer, could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.
Scott Bates of Stonington, who chaired the Port Authority’s board from 2017 until May 2019, could also not be reached.
Lamont appointed one of its chief economic development officers, David Kooris, in July 2019 to chair the board and to review operations.
“This is an unfortunate reminder of the issues that arose under previous leadership,” Kooris wrote in a statement. “…Under new management, from the end of 2019, the authority carried out a complete overhaul of its policies and procedures. With the help of the Office of Policy and Management and external auditors, the authority has updated its ethics policies and all employees and board members now receive training and annual certifications in matter of ethics. Contractors are also briefed on appropriate protocols.
Kooris added that “authority stakeholders should be reassured that matters of the past will be fully and transparently investigated.”
Besides the state, other major “stakeholders” in the deal include Gateway Terminal – the company contracted to develop the state jetty – and Eversource and Ørsted North America, which will develop the wind farm.
The pier project, valued three years ago at $93 million, has also come under fire for several cost hikes that now put the price tag at more than $255 million. Connecticut’s share now stands at $178 million, including $77.5 million from private partners.