Attorney General William Tong confirmed that his office is investigating the Connecticut Port Authority in a letter to Senate Republican Leader Kevin Kelly, R-Stratford, and Sen. Paul Formica, R-East Lyme, who asked the attorney general to review contracts and payouts made by the quasi-public agency.
“In concert with the Auditors, we are currently in the process of investigating the issues raised in [the auditors] reports, particularly with respect to the CPA’s contract with Seabury Capital, and any possible violations of law or the state Code of Ethics,” Tong wrote in his response.
The State Contracting Standards Board found the Port Authority had paid Seabury Capital “more than $700,000” to find an operator for the State Pier Project in New London, including a “success fee” of $523,500.
Seabury selected Gateway Terminal as the operator for the State Pier, part of the $157 million project to turn the State Pier into a staging area for an offshore wind farm being developed by Eversource and Danish Company Ørsted.
Gateway was already operating another pier nearby in New Haven, according to Jon Lender of the Hartford Courant.
Formica said the success fee amounted to a finder’s fee that was larger than the Port Authority’s annual budget. Furthermore, The Day’s David Collins reported that Seabury Capital employs former CPA board member Henry Juan III, although Juan was not a board member when the contract was signed.
“We are aware of public allegations concerning the so-called ‘success fee’ paid to Seabury Capital and possible conflicts of interest, and we will investigate those allegations,” Tong wrote.
The embattled Connecticut Port Authority has, for several years, faced intense scrutiny from lawmakers after auditors and whistleblowers revealed the agency had spent lavishly on travel expenses, awarded contracts to business associates and hired family members, resulting in several board members stepping down.
Tong initially rejected a 2019 request from former Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, to review bids and contracts at the Port Authority because it was a matter for the Auditors of Public Accounts.
However, the attorney general wrote that he initiated an investigation “upon receipt of the Auditors’ two whistleblower reports.”
In an interview, Formica says he is pleased Tong is looking into the matter and hopes the investigation will shed transparency on the embattled CPA.
“Senator Kelly and I are looking for transparency in the discussion and what’s going on,” Formica said. “I’d like to take the focus away from the problems at CPA and return to the mission of developing the port and moving the offshore wind development forward.”
“The true mission of the Port Authority is to enhance economically the large and small ports for the state of Connecticut, and in particular the State Pier in New London and getting down to the job of promoting this offshore wind development, which going to help provide the energy generation the state is going to need over the next decade,” Formica said.
Tong also issued a formal opinion indicating that the State Contracting Standards Board had little jurisdiction over the Connecticut Port Authority’s contracts after the SCSB voiced concerns over the Port Authority’s contracts and, more generally, quasi-public agencies.
Tong wrote the SCSB’s authority is limited to deciding a bidder’s contest on issues not involving real estate.
“Ultimately, the Board’s power is relatively limited when it comes to quasi-public agencies generally,” Tong wrote. “The General Assembly would have to change the statutes to expand the Board’s oversight.