Corporate Crime Reporter18 Corporate Crime Reporter 3(8), January 19, 2004INTERVIEW WITH BILL CURRY, FARMINGTON, CONNECTICUTIn Connecticut, Governor John Rowland’s administration is beingthreatened with the worst public corruption scandal in the state’shistory.Three Connecticut mayors and the state’s treasurer already have beensent to prison.The Governor’s former deputy chief of staff pled guilty to accepting goldcoins in return for government contracts.He reportedly buried the gold coins in his back yard.Governor Rowland has confessed that he allowed private corporations torenovate his cottage in Litchfield.He first told the citizens of Connecticut that he paid for the hot tub andthe cathedral ceilings – but later admitted that he lied.He didn’t pay for them – the state contractors paid for them.The state legislature has organized to investigate the Governor for apossible impeachment.Bill Curry, the Democratic gubernatorial nominee who lost to Rowland in1998 and 2002, now calls Connecticut “the most corrupt state in thenation.”"We were the Constitution State," Curry told the Hartford Courant lastmonth. "We were the home of New England town meeting democracy,and now were Louisiana with foliage."Curry should know. He leveled charges of corruption against Rowland in2002, but hardly anyone blinked an eye. Now, everyone wants Rowlandto resign.We interviewed Curry on January 13, 2004.CCR: What are you doing these days?CURRY: Im writing a book on the Clinton Presidency.
CCR: You are a lawyer. Are you practicing?CURRY: Im not practicing right now. When the book is out, Im going tosit down and decide whether Im going back into law or politics.CCR: What would you run for?CURRY: Its clear that given what has happened here in Connecticut, Ihave the option of running again.CCR: For Governor?CURRY: That would certainly be the office that is most attractive to me.It is the place where you can get the most things done. I need to thinkabout it all, something I really havent done in the year since I lost toRowland.CCR: Give us a sketch of your education and what you have been doingsince you last graduated.CURRY: I graduated from Georgetown University in 1974. I graduatedfrom the University of Connecticut Law School in 1977.I practiced law in 1978 and ran for the Connecticut state senate and waselected. I was re-elected in 1980. I was the Democratic nominee forCongress in 1982. I lost a close, tough election to Nancy Johnson. TobyMoffett had vacated the seat that year to run against Lowell Weicker forSenate.I then went to work for the Nuclear Freeze. We formed a political actioncommittee called Freeze Voter, of which I was national director. I wasthere two years supporting members of Congress who supported bilateralarms control and trying to defeat Reagan. We were better at the first thanat the second.I returned to Connecticut, practiced law and did business successfullyfor a few years in a firm that I founded. In 1988 and 1989, I was a fellowat the International Center in Washington, D.C.I did work in a number of developing countries having new democracies –El Salvador, Nicaragua. I met with Castro in Cuba. I was in East Berlinthe week the Wall came down. I met and worked with Willy Brandt inGeneva.
I now chair the board of the International Center. I returned toConnecticut in 1990 and ran for Comptroller of the state of won,defeating an incumbent of my own party at the convention and thenwinning a close election against the Republican.In 1994, I became the first person ever to win a Gubernatorialnomination by primary in either party. Then in a divided four-way field, Ilost a very close election to Rowland. The other two candidates wereEunice Groark, who had been Lowell Weickers Lt. Governor and TomScott, a populist conservative, running on an anti-income tax platform.CCR: You were hurt by both?CURRY: Yes. In all polling, both Scotts and Groarks voters named meas their second choice by fairly substantial margins. The Scott votes weremostly Reagan Democrats coming out of old industrial towns.They knew that I was different from Tom on lots of issues, but theyunderstoodthat I was a lot more likely than Rowland to stand up for them on otherstuff that mattered to them, like health care, property taxes ad rootingout corruption. The Groark vote was mostly suburban professionalliberals, a vote we otherwise won by a wide margin.CCR: What did you lose by?CURRY: Three points. That was in 1994. Right after that, Bill Clintoncalled and offered me a job at the White House.I began work for him here in Connecticut while I was still comptrollerand went to the White House in January 1995 serving as counselor tothe President and working on a wide range of domestic policy issues. Icame back to Connecticut in 1997, did a stint as a fellow at the YaleSchool of Management and began work on what later became this bookon the Clinton Presidency.CCR: Whats the title?CURRY: Unfinished Business. In 1998 I thought of running forGovernor, filed a committee, went about the state. When BarbaraKennelly announced her candidacy, I withdrew in her favor. She lost toRowland by a quite a lot, getting about 37 percent of the vote.In 2002, I again ran again against Rowland and lost to him. I had a littleover 44 percent of the vote.
We started out 43 points down and closed it to 9 in September whilebeing outspent about 5 to 1. I eventually got 44% of the vote. Since thenIve been working on the Clinton book.CCR: What do you mean by Unfinished Business?CURRY: It refers to the unfinished business of the administration andthe country. Its about what happened to the progressive ideal inAmerican politics in the Clinton years. Clinton came along in 1992 andsaid – Hi, Im a new Democrat.I can cut you taxes, shrink your government, work with corporations,devolve power and still extend a social contract -- heal cities, fix schools,expand employment, extend health care. The most interesting questionto me about his presidency is – did you really think you could do that orwere you just kidding?Was it truly a strategy of governance, or merely of self-presentation, acampaign hustle? In 1992, Clinton presented a fairly broad populistagenda – universal health care reform, welfare reform, campaign financereform, a massive public works program for the cities. Clinton got manythings done as President, but not those things. The book tries to answerthe question of why things turned out that way and explore how wemight do better.CCR: Is he going to like the book?CURRY: I dont know. I hope everyone likes it. On some level, I hopepeople see it as a thoughtful defense of his Presidency. You can argueback and forth whether we could have done better. Some of thePresidents defenders would argue that this was a time whenconservatives were in the saddle and it wasnt possible to advance a moredramatic and more sweeping agenda. I disagree with that.This book certainly makes the argument that in fact the window wasopen then and still could be now.CCR: Who are you supporting in the upcoming election?CURRY: Im not.CCR: You are writing an article about Governor Rowland that will appearin newspapers around Connecticut tomorrow. What will you say in anutshell?
CURRY: The title is "Last Chance for Legislators." I note in the articlethat in matters of impeachment and corruption, public opinion drives theagenda. At the outset of the Lewinsky scandal, Democrat and RepublicanCongressional leaders alike were preparing to dispose of Clinton. SamDonaldson was speaking for the whole town when he said Clinton was“toast.”Then something odd happened. The polls started saying that the public –by a 2-1 margin – opposed impeachment. People deplored what Clintonhad done but regarded impeachment as unsuitable for such a personaltrespass. So, public opinion saved Clintons presidency. Public opinion isagain driving the process in Connecticut. But here its in many ways theopposite situation.All Rowlands misdeeds are clearly of a public rather than private nature.But here Democratic and Republican leaders, even when confronted withRowlands confession of serial violations of the public trust, stood frozenlike deer in headlights. The public on the other hand, as soon as theyheard Rowland admit he had taken things that were not his to take andthen repeatedly lied about it, knew instantly that they wanted him out ofthat office.CCR: What is Rowland accused of doing?CURRY: Everything wrong he possibly could: Taking money fromsweetheart economic deals set up by people who do business with thestate. Taking gifts, free travel, vacations, suits, wine, repairs to a cottagein Litchfield, quite possibly a boat and a car from people who were hisemployees or who did business with the state.Letting a political hack who was a state contractor and a Rowlandappointee manipulate a nature conservancy in Litchfield whose board thehack chaired, into selling Rowland a cottage. It was a private sale – justfor Rowland.The price was $110,000. Litchfield is a lovely town. Property there is veryexpensive. This was lakefront property in a nature conservancy inLitchfield and he bought it for $110,000, $5,000 down, the rest coveredby a subsidized mortgage from the nature conservancy.This goes to the very heart of laws governing non-profit. The mortal sin ofnon-profits is siphoning off assets to the benefit of insiders and theircronies. Many of us cried foul at the
time but the attorney general, who oversees charitable organizations,declined even to ask questions.CCR: In your two runs against him, you never accused him of beingcorrupt, did you?CURRY: Actually I did. It was one of the two main arguments of the 2002race. One of the amazing things to watch now is everything I talked ofthen coming true. One example is the CRRA/Enron deal. I said at thetime it was clear that Rowland had transacted an illegal deal to benefit aprivate company – Enron, if you can believe it-- in exchange forcampaign contributions to the Republican Governors Association, whichRowland then chaired.CCR: What is CRRA?CURRY: It is the Connecticut Resource Recovery Authority (CRRA), aquasi public authority, operating under the state of Connecticut, thenrun by the Governors Chief of Staff, a man named Peter Ellis, whoapparently as chief of staff didnt have enough to do. Rowland assignedhim this hobby, running CRRA, so he could control the authority to steerbusiness to his own and his cronies advantage. And he did. The firstmajor deal was Enron. The authority made the illegal loan of 220 milliondollars to Enron just before Enron went belly up. The state neverrecovered a dime.That was in 1997 to 1999. We hammered that home. Unfortunately forus, once again the Attorney General of the state, Richard Blumentahl, aDemocrat allied himself with Rowland and announced that he wouldrepresent rather than investigate Enron.He appeared with Rowland at a press conference announcing they weregoing to sue the accountants and lawyers in New York who they said haddeceived the state. It was so much blather.They knew the people of Connecticut would be 1000th in line going afterthe bankrupt Enron and its lawyers and accountants after one of thegreatest corporate meltdowns ever. It was such an obvious trade oftaxpayer dollars for campaign contributions to the RepublicanGovernors Association.CCR: How much did Enron put into the Republican GovernorsAssociation?CURRY: Enron raised about $1 million for them when Rowland was
either the number one or number two guy at RGA. The deal was acomplete scam on taxpayers. The paperwork made it appear Enron wasbuying energy from state regulated utilities. It wasnt. The whole thingwas like a shell game with no pea. The states $220 million loss was thelargest single financial transaction and of course the largest singlefinancial loss in state history.The Governor denied ever having met with Enron, but it turns out thathe met with Ken Lay himself and had numerous meetings with Enronofficials.And then there was the massive bid rigging. For this scam, Rowlandarranged to have changes made in state statute regarding competitivebidding. Ella Grasso, Connecticut Governor in the mid-1970s, hadbrought us into the modern age with competitive bidding statutes. Underthat law, you could forgo competitive bidding only in a real emergency."Emergency" was carefully defined. If water was coming over the levee,and you needed more sandbags, you didnt have to go out to bid.Otherwise, you had to play it straight. Rowland went from that standard,to one where the commissioners of his departments could justdeclare an emergency.In our campaign, we looked at those projects, and it turned out thecommissioners had only declared emergencies where the contractor wasthe Governors largest donor, the Tomasso family from New Britain andtheir associated companies. No other emergencies had apparently arisenwith respect to any other contractors.We took those contracts – I believe there were four at the time totalingover $100 million – and we brought them to industry analysts who saidthey had come in 15 to 20 percent over what was then the going rate inour market. Thats 15 to 20 percent over a normal, reasonable profit.That somewhere between $15 million and $20 million into the pockets ofthat one family just for those projects.This is the same family that bought the Governor a car, provided many ofthe free vacations and travel, provided the free improvements to thecottage he got at the private sale with a subsidized mortgage from anature conservancy. I held a press conference on September 24, 2002and laid out the scheme.CCR: It didnt catch on back then. Why did it catch on now?CURRY: Maybe the press has to smell blood, political defeat, before they
will take this kind of thing as seriously as they should. If youre onlycovering the horse race, the first call you make is not whether somethingis important or not but only whether you think it will affect the outcomeof the race. After a while you start to lose the ability to recognize whatsimportant. Not one editorial board wrote one editorial about that pressconference.CCR: Did the newspapers run stories about your press conference?CURRY: In the Hartford Courant, one story ran on the front page of thesecond section. That was about as well as we did. A reporter named PaulHughes of the Meriden Record Journal understood the points I wastrying to make. The New York Times editorial board along with theMeriden and Willimantic papers got it. Paul Bass of the Advocate. I namethem because to me its kind of an honor role. Im probably leaving outsomeone, but that was about it. The rest of the state press slept throughthe corruption story.CCR: Why did this story start breaking this year?CURRY: Well, perhaps someone at the U.S. Attorneys office in Hartforddid read my press release. At any rate they began investigating the bid-rigging.CCR: Who is the U.S. Attorney in Hartford?CURRY: Its an interesting story there. At that time, I, alone except forone newspaper, the New Haven Register, had opposed the Governorschoice for U.S. Attorney, a lawyer who had never been to court, let alonein a criminal matter, but who had been on the Governors top staff foryears. His name is Brendan Fox. Rowland recommended him to Bushand pushed hard, with the support of our Democrat U.S. Senators, whogot on board with Rowland immediately despite knowing nothing abouthis nominee.Among Foxs responsibilities with Rowland was doling money out to thevarious municipalities, many of which were then under indictment orinvestigation.Were the most deeply indebted state in the nation and a big reason isthat Rowland borrowed so much money for downtown redevelopmentprojects.To date these projects have produced more criminal convictions than realjobs. In Bridgeport and Waterbury the mayors, both now in jail, were
under indictment or investigation. The Governors hand picked statetreasurer was under indictment.Fox had worked with all these people and under the canons of judicialethics would have been forced to recuse himself from nearly every majorcase in his office. Ultimately he didnt get the job.In the end, the civil service professionals of the Justice Department wereable to make theargument within the Department and stop his appointment.Not even John Ashcroft was willing to give him the go ahead. Rowlandthen proposed a lawyer, who was the husband of one of the Governorslegal staff. His name is Kevin OConnor. He got the job. And he is now theU.S. Attorney. He has recused himself from the Rowland cases, becauseof that connection.So the civil servants in that office have essentially brought these cases ontheir own. They have been heros. There is one assistant U.S. Attorney inthe office named Nora Dannehy. I have never met her. Along with ahandful of her colleagues she has brought all these cases. Somebodyshould give this woman a plaque. We are now without doubt the mostcorrupt state in the nation and that one office has been fighting it allalone.CCR: When you say – all of these cases – you mean which ones?CURRY: The Governors deputy chief of staff has pled guilty to takingbribes in exchange for state construction contracts in the form of goldcoins which he buried in his back yard. His name is Lawrence Alibozek.He awaits sentencing.The former Treasurer of the State, his name is Paul Silvester, is in prisonfor taking bribes in exchange for state business. Silvester had met withFox to plan fundraising.The fundraising included bringing the Governor down to New York toraise money from the various companies Silvester placing state fundswith.When it all came out, Rowland said he remembered going to New Yorkwith Silvester to raise money but had no idea that the people ponying upthe dough did bussiness with the state. Oh, the governors choice forSecretary of State also awaits sentencing.
CCR: Then there are the mayors –CURRY: Two mayors of Waterbury who were in jail at the same timeJoseph Santopietro and Phillip Giordano. Santopietro for corruption.Giordano turned out to be like Caligula. Hes in jail for horrid sexualcrimes committed against minors right in the mayors office. The fedshavent even been gotten to charges from the corruption investigationduring which they stumbled over the sex felonies. Santopietro is out oncommunity release. The Mayor of Bridgeport, Joseph Ganim, is in prisonfor corruption.CCR: Based on those five, you say Connecticut is the most corrupt statein the union?CURRY: Three mayors, a state treasurer, a deputy chief of staff, andthere are indictments expected for the rest of the Rowland entourage.The most widely expected indictment are those connected to Alibozek,the man who buried the gold in his yard.The Governors chief of staff and the Governors largest donor are oddson favorites to enter the criminal justice system real soon. Certainly noone here can think of a case in New England where the top echelons ofgovernment have all gone marching off together like this to jail.CCR: You are saying that what turned this case around from the publicnot caring to the public demanding the Governors resignation is theaction of assistant U.S. Attorneys?CURRY: Absolutely. There is a kind Lois Gibbs/Erin Brockovich aspectto this story, about how one person can not only beat but imprison cityhall.CCR: Are you saying that a whistleblower stood up and did the rightthing? Or is it someone at the U.S. Attorneys office who connected thedots?CURRY: The U.S. Attorneys office for sure but almost certainly somewhistleblowers as well. Let me say I dont know what their sources are. Ihave no lines into that office. I havent sought any, Im sure theywouldnt allow me any. Until they tell their stories, we wont know alltheir sources. I have some theories about it. Some of it I think I know.But well see.
CCR: Republicans are calling on Rowland to resign. There are calls forimpeachment. Who controls the state legislature?CURRY: The Democrats do. Leaders of both parties have done nothingbut dither and equivocate. As I said its like it was with Clinton onlydifferent. With Rowland the politicians are all confused and the public isas clear eyed as can be. The politicians are so useless becausegovernment in Connecticut has been of, by and for political insiders forso long.CCR: What are the odds that there will be an impeachment?CURRY: Overwhelming.CCR: What are the odds that he will resign in disgrace first?CURRY: I dont know. When the polls came out, the rank and filelegislators – Democrat and Republican – began to break and run. Thepolls showed over 80 percent of the public feels the Governor isdishonest and untrustworthy. Something like 70 percent feel he shouldresign. A substantial majority supports impeachment.CCR: If people outside of Connecticut know anything about the case,they have heard that he said that he paid for the renovations to hiscottage, when in fact he didnt pay for it himself. He lied about it. Its aCapone kind of thing — you commit egregious acts, but are hung forlying or filing false tax returns.CURRY: That is almost always the way it is. They end up getting theseguys for the smaller things they can actually catch them out at. Rowlandis looking at the possibility of a Capone like prosecution – income taxevasion. That would be the easiest case to prove.Sometimes it is hard for people to grasp just how much theyve beenvictimized by a hustle like the one Rowland and Tomasso ran on statebidding. A massive story of pandemic corruption that costs the state tensof millions of dollars is before the public.But it is slightly abstract. On the other hand, a free hot tub at thecottage, with a new kitchen and cathedral ceilings and then lying aboutit.Obvious and improbable lies about going to a store and buying stuffhimself – thats stuff people understand. The lies were so flagrant. It was
so humiliating when he was caught. Rowland is a compulsive and casualliar about matters large and small. What is most interesting about thiscase is not what he did, but how we let him get away with it for so long.How did so many institutions fail? How did so many decent peoplebecome the enablers of corruption?CCR: Would he have gotten away with it had it not been for this cottagedeal?CURRY: I dont think so. Rowlands popularity dropped 20 percent theFriday after his election victory over me. On that day, he admitted thathe had been lying through his teeth all year about the states fiscalcondition.It was the same problem Gray Davis had. Because our real fiscalcondition wasnt just poor but horrible and because hed lied about it sorelentlessly, people were outraged. He only holds office now because wedont have a recall procedure in Connecticut.Then a few months later, his deputy chief of staff made his made forcable TVmovie admission of burying gold coins in his backyard – coins hehad gotten from a major contractor for awarding him state business. Itwas then that the public began to suspect there was a decent chance notonly that Rowland had lied about the budget but that he was deeplycorrupt as well.Out of that investigation came the news that Alibozek, Tomasso andothers, who the feds were investigating for the bid-rigging, had beenvisiting the Governors cottage and treating him to a new kitchen, a newliving room, a deck, a hot tub, and other substantial homeimprovements.Then too the news broke that he had been taking free vacation travelfrom state contractors and had charged $50,000 on Republican Partycredit cards for his own personal use. So the cottage story didnt hit in avacuum. If it hadnt been that it was bound to be something else.The feds were bearing down and there had been just too many lies. WhenRowland woke up to how much trouble he was in he did what camenaturally to him. He told even more lies with even less forethought. Bythis time the prosecutors knew he was lying even as the words wereleaving his mouth. He was cooked.CCR: Who is the Governors lawyer?CURRY: William Dow from New Haven.
CCR: You said that Connecticut is the most corrupt state in the nation.We have completed a report on public corruption in the United States. Itis based on a report that the Justice Department just released on publiccorruption convictions over the last decade state-by-state. The reportdocuments a corruption rate, based on number of public corruptionconvictions per capita. Connecticuts corruption rate is 2.16 convictionsper 100,000 population over the last ten years. That brings it in atnumber 32 – with number one being the most corrupt and number 50being the least corrupt. Now again, these are just statistics covering1993 to 2002. Louisiana comes in third with a corruption rate of 7.05.CURRY: Let me suggest some methodological problems. One – you leaveout 2003 and 2004, the years in which I would assert that my theory isbeing proved true. There were lots of convictions last year and there arelots more convictions to come this year. Second, look who is going down– the Governor, the Secretary of State nominee, the State Treasurer,mayors, commissioners, the chief of staff, the deputy chief of staff. Withall due respect to Louisiana and Mississippi can they really match that?CCR: You say Connecticut is the most corrupt state and you callConnecticut "Louisiana with foliage." The people in Louisiana are nothappy.CURRY: Yeah, but by and large they concede that they are an inevitabletouchstone in matters of public corruption and fall back on what theysee as their strongest argument-- that Im underestimating their foliage. Istill say New England for foliage and New Orleans for Mardi Gras. AndIm working to hand the corruption crown back to them.CCR: How has the Rowland scandal changed your life?CURRY: In most ways not at all.CCR: But if you decide to run for Governor again, it will have changedyour life.CURRY: Sure. Throughout the year, more than ever before in my life, Ivebeen getting back just wonderful feedback from the public. Rowlandadmitted to such a big lie about the budget just three days after the pollsclosed. The only campaign commercial I had money to run on broadcasttelevision was a commercial with the tag line - "Governor Rowland whatdid you do with all of that money?"In my debates, in my speeches, in all my editorial and other interviews, I
pounded home that we were in terrible fiscal shape and that a big part ofthe reason was that the governor and his friends were looting thetreasury.When it all turned out to be true the state came down with the worstcase of buyers remorse you ever saw. People have been wonderfullyaffirming of me ever since. But while it was a real consolation, its not thesame as gettingthe job.CCR: Which you might get next time.CURRY: Im going to finish this book, take a deep breath, and make adecision in the spring. I do not feel as if Im done with elective politics. Istill believe this is the single job in which one person can do the mostgood for others.CCR: If he is impeached or resigns, what is the provision in Connecticutlaw for an emergency election?CURRY: There isnt one. Its one of the questions Ive raised with peoplein the last few weeks. As in most states, the Lt. Governor takes over. Ithink thats a mistake. I think we designed the offices of vice presidentand Lt. Governor with an eye to the death or incapacity of the Presidentor Governor.I believe that when a chief executive is marched out of office forimpeachable offenses, we should have an election to fill the remainder ofthe term. The idea that a member of Rowlands posse simply follows inRowlands footsteps is a bad one.CCR: Has the Lt. Governor, Jodi Rell, been implicated?CURRY: When her son was found by state environmental officers to berunning a stolen property ring out of her basement for Skidoos, theenvironmental officers who made the arrests had their careersthreatened.They suffered until it hit the press and then the administration backedoff. She denied any involvement in the retaliation. Again, Connecticutsextraordinary unwillingness to investigate the apparent corruption of itsown elected officials saved her from further public embarrassment.In any event, she has been a happy, willing partner and an insider in theRowland administration for nine years.
CCR: The next election is scheduled in 2006.CURRY: Right.CCR: What is the impeachment proceeding like in Connecticut?CURRY: Its a lot like the federal system. There has only been oneimpeachment ever here, against a probate judge. So theres uncertaintyabout what House committee would conduct the investigation and underwhat rules and procedures.And unlike a Presidential impeachment, the impeachment of aConnecticut Governor requires the Governor to step aside while theinvestigation is going on. When the investigatory committee is convened,the Governor must take leave of the office, the Lt. Governor takes overand the Governor doesnt return unless and until he is acquitted.CCR: And finally, what is your read on what is going to happen?CURRY: I think indictments against the Governors chief of staff and hislargest donor for bid-rigging will come down soon – probably in a matterof weeks, not months. Heres a man with the lowest favorability ratingsever recorded in either major state poll for any public official. Over 80percent of the people now characterize him as a liar and untrustworthy.When the sonic boom of the bid rigging indictment story hits the papers,I believe he will then be gone within a very few days.CCR: This is a headline yet to be written.CURRY: That is correct.