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Commission weighing removal of Connecticut's top prosecutor set to meet Wednesday

State prosecutor Richard Colangelo speaks during a hearing at Connecticut Superior Court.
Tyler Sizemore
Hearst Connecticut Media via The Associated Press
State prosecutor Richard Colangelo speaks during a hearing at Connecticut Superior Court in Stamford on March 3, 2020. An independent investigation is questioning the "integrity" of Colangelo hiring a state budget official's daughter in 2020 while lobbying for pay raises for his staff.

Richard Colangelo is under scrutiny for hiring the daughter of the state’s deputy budget secretary while also lobbying for raises for himself and his staff. Listen to our interview with him about how he met the daughter.

A panel of legal experts will convene Wednesday to consider whether Connecticut’s top prosecutor should be removed from his post after his credibility was called into question last week.

Chief State’s Attorney Richard Colangelo is under scrutiny for hiring the daughter of the state’s deputy budget secretary at the same time Colangelo was pushing for people in his office to get raises.

Colangelo denies any wrongdoing. But an independent investigator hired by Gov. Ned Lamont concluded last week that some statements made by the chief state’s attorney during the hiring probe “lack credibility.” In particular, the investigator cast doubt on Colangelo’s account of meeting the budget chief’s daughter at a social event before he hired her.

At issue is Colangelo’s decision in June 2020 to hire the daughter of then-deputy budget secretary Kosta Diamantis for a high-paying job. The hire came amid discussions among Colangelo, Diamantis and other state officials about Colangelo's request to hike pay for himself and other top prosecutors in his office.

While both Colangelo and Diamantis have denied any wrongdoing, the investigator determined Colangelo’s account of where and when he first met Anastasia Diamantis was not credible, casting “doubt on the integrity of the circumstances” surrounding the hire.

During an interview last year with CT Public’s Accountability Project, Colangelo also denied any impropriety in the episode, saying he first met Anastasia Diamantis at a dinner, where the two discussed her background.

Listen to Colangelo explain how he met the deputy budget chief's daughter

“I had met her at a function and spoke to her. She was well-spoken. I was impressed with her background,” he explained.

Colangelo provided few details about the size and nature of the event, saying “I don’t know how to characterize it. I went to a dinner, OK? I talked to [Anastasia]. Again, I was impressed with her background. After, she sent me her resume.”

The fact-finding report released Wednesday shows that the independent investigator also pressed for details and poked holes in the timeline Colangelo offered.

“According to Mr. Colangelo, he first met Anastasia at an outdoor happy hour event, possibly one billed as a ‘Greek Night,’ at Cava Restaurant in Southington,” the report states. “Mr. Colangelo did not recall the specific date or have any record of when it occurred, but stated that it was ‘probably summer’ and certainly after March 2020 because it was during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

But after interviewing other state officials in attendance, the investigator determined it was implausible that the gathering happened before Anastasia Diamantis was hired for the job, since he could find evidence of only two such events at the restaurant, both later that summer.

The day after Connecticut Public ran a story about Colangelo not offering details about how he met Anastasia Diamantis, his senior staff met to talk about the issue.

Included in the investigation the governor released last week were notes from Colangelo’s senior staff about meetings they had with him. One official warned that how Colangelo met Anastasia would become an issue.

According to the notes, Colangelo said he would say there were "Lots of people there. Govs Office, DAS, OPM."

The official questioned saying that since this was June 2020 and "Middle of Pandemic? Happy Hour?"

The day after Connecticut Public ran a story about Rich Colanglo not offering details about how he met Anastasia Diamantis, his senior staff me to talk about how to handle that question going forward.
Exhibits included in the investigative report completed by Stanley Twardy.
A screen grab from notes from one of Richard Colangelo's senior staff the day after Connecticut Public ran a story about Colangelo not offering details about how he met Anastasia Diamantis.

The investigator also found a job opening and description that Colangelo sent the deputy budget chief, who then forwarded it to his daughter — around the same time the pair were having “extensive communications” on the need to press the issue of pay raises at the Office of Policy and Management, where Kosta Diamantis worked.

Frank Riccio, past president of the Connecticut Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, said that even without proof of misconduct, the findings pose a dilemma for the Criminal Justice Commission because the top prosecutor’s credibility has been called into question.

“There have been many attorneys who have been disciplined, and or worse, for conduct that took place outside of the courtroom,” he said. “Again, as attorneys, we’re held to a higher standard, not only in court, but also essentially in the public. So our conduct is certainly under scrutiny at all times.”

In a statement released last week, Colangelo’s private attorney denied he engaged in ethical misconduct.

"With the benefit of hindsight, Mr. Colangelo should have been more sensitive to issues relating to the appearance of a conflict of interest when making hiring decisions,” the statement reads. “But the simple truth is Mr. Colangelo was motivated only by his interest in fixing an unbalanced pay scale for the benefit of his employees, the State, and the people of Connecticut; he did absolutely nothing improper when trying to right that past wrong.”

So were any laws broken?

The governor's office has declined CT Public's request to waive attorney-client privilege so that the investigators he hired can release their legal analysis.

While it may be unclear whether Colangelo faces any lawsuits over his handling of this hire, the state panel that can fire him is convening for a special hearing Wednesday at 3 p.m. to discuss the findings of an independent probe into allegations of misconduct by Colangelo and another state official.

The commission has sole authority over Colangelo’s appointment. An agenda posted online Monday afternoon indicates the group will hold a public discussion to weigh Colangelo’s future.

State Supreme Court Justice Andrew McDonald, who chairs the commission, has publicly questioned whether Colangelo can continue in the role, calling the findings of the investigation “quite startling."

Lamont also issued a stark rebuke, saying at a news conference Thursday that he would fire Colangelo if the decision were his to make.

Jim Haddadin is an editor for The Accountability Project, Connecticut Public's investigative reporting team. He was previously an investigative producer at NBC Boston, and wrote for newspapers in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.
Jacqueline Rabe Thomas was an investigative reporter with Connecticut Public’s Accountability Project from July 2021 until August 2022.
Walter Smith Randolph is Connecticut Public’s Investigative Editor. In 2021, Walter launched The Accountability Project, CT Public’s investigative reporting initiative. Since then, the team’s reporting has led to policy changes across the state. Additionally, The Accountability Project’s work has been honored with a National Edward R. Murrow award from RTDNA, two regional Murrow awards, a national Sigma Delta Chi award from the Society of Professional Journalists, three regional EMMY nominations and a dozen CT SPJ awards.

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