State Sen. Thomas P. Gaffey, D-Meriden, agreed today to plead guilty to misdemeanor larceny charges in connection with double-billing travel expenses, which covered the cost of a girlfriend accompanying him to legislative conferences. He will resign his seat in the General Assembly.

Gaffey, 51, a senior member of the Senate and the co-chairman of the Education Committee, was arrested today and charged with six larceny counts after voluntarily surrendering at Troop H in Hartford, according to the chief state’s attorney’s office.

He double-billed the legislature and his political action committee for a half-dozen expenses that ranged from $100 to $1,209. They totaled about $2,800.

The eight-term senator said he intends to plead guilty when he appears Wednesday in Hartford Superior Court. Each count is punishable by up to three months in jail, but Gaffey said that under a plea deal he will be sentenced to 100 hours of community service. His ninth two-year term would have started the same day.

“Under the terms of the plea agreement, there is nothing to prevent me from continuing as the State Senator from the 13th District,” Gaffey said in a statement. “My family, friends and community have already endured a process, which has spanned three years.  If I were to remain in office, they would inevitably have to endure an ongoing political controversy for years to come.  I will not ask them to do so.”

Gaffey settled last year with the State Elections Enforcement Commission over the double-billing, agreeing to a $6,000 fine, the dissolution of his PAC and the forfeiture of its assets. But the state’s attorney’s office opened a criminal inquiry that will end with a guilty plea.

On Wednesday, when his colleagues are taking the oath of office, Gaffey will plead guilty to a half-dozen sixth-degree larceny charges.

“I have decided that the best course of action for everyone involved is for me to walk off the political battlefield,” Gaffey said. “My family and I have suffered immensely throughout this long ordeal and need closure. This ordeal needs to end and I have decided to end it now.”

Senate Minority Leader John P. McKinney, R-Fairfield, said the resignation was appropriate.

“The crimes Senator Gaffey committed and will plead guilty to, as well as his prior violations of state elections law, undermine the public trust placed in elected officials. His resignation is the first step toward repairing that trust,” McKinney said.

Senate President Pro Tem Donald E. Williams Jr., D-Brooklyn, expressed regret at the news.

“I am saddened by today’s announcement from Senator Thomas Gaffey and respect the decision given the plea agreement. I hope the decision to leave the senate brings closure for Senator Gaffey and his family,” Williams said.

The resignation spares the Senate the inevitable official inquiry to explore whether he should be expelled.

Gaffey’s career in recent years has been roiled by ethical issues, twice involving romantic relationships. His more recent relationship with a legislative liaison for the Connecticut State University system was the subject of a complaint of a conflict of interest, but the Office of State Ethics found no wrongdoing.

He has faced questions about mixing his personal and public finances for at least eight years. In 2002, he acknowledged charging $10,000 in personal expenses, mainly for travel and cell phone usage, to the Connecticut Resource Recovery Authority, where he also is employed.

The more recent election-enforcement investigation found that Gaffey’s political action committee, the Government Action Fund, covered Gaffey’s travel to several out of-state conferences, for which he also was reimbursed by the legislature’s Office of Legislative Managment.

Patricia Murphy, a political activist from Meriden who accompanied him on the trips, cooperated with investigators, according to the application for the arrest warrant. They no longer are dating.

According to the chief state’s attorney’s office, much of the information in the 17-page arrest warrant released today was based on an investigative report concluded in November 2008 by Charles Urso, a retired FBI agent who now is the lead investigator for the State Elections Enforcement Commission.

“The State Elections Enforcement Commission proceeding regarding my political action committee began in January 2008 and concluded in May 2009,” Gaffey said. “I cooperated completely with the investigation and have always taken full responsibility for mistakes that were made.  I apologize to my family, friends, colleagues and the voters of my district for any embarrassment my mistakes may have caused.”

The SEEC settlement involved about $2,500 in duplicative reimbursements from 2004 to 2007. In addition to paying a $6,000 fine, his PAC also forfeited $10,000 to the state. The arrest warrant was based on about $2,800 in improper expenses over the same period.

Gaffey, who was easily re-elected in November, said it became clear in December that the Office of the Chief State’s Attorney was pursuing criminal charges. The application for the arrest warrant was completed Dec. 23 and signed by a judge on Dec. 30.

“A resolution of the case was not worked out until very recently.  Under the agreement, on January 5, 2011 I will be entering a guilty plea to misdemeanors and will agree to perform one hundred hours of community service,” Gaffey said.

Gaffey’s resignation will leave the Senate Democratic majority with 20 members. They won 23 seats, but Andrew J. McDonald of Stamford and Donald J. DeFronzo of New Britain are resigning to accept positions in the administration of Gov.-elect Dan Malloy.

All three seats will be filled by special elections that will be scheduled after the senators submit their resignation letters. Four House Democrats also will be resigning to take other positions.

Mark is the Capitol Bureau Chief and a co-founder of CT Mirror. He is a frequent contributor to WNPR, a former state politics writer for The Hartford Courant and Journal Inquirer, and contributor for The New York Times.

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