The Office of State Ethics fined a New York-based consulting firm $10,000 Tuesday for providing more than $3,000 in food and gifts — including hockey tickets and an overnight stay at a Greenwich club — to Connecticut Port Authority officials in 2017 and 2019.
Seabury Maritime, a subsidiary of Seabury Capital Group, provided some of those gifts while pursuing a business relationship with the authority, and others after securing a contract to help find an operator for state pier in New London, according to the consent order signed by Seabury and the state ethics office.
Seabury also has come under fire this year from another state agency. The State Contracting Standards Board concluded in February that a $523,000 “success” fee the port authority paid to Seabury in May 2018 is eerily similar to the “finder’s fees” scandal that sent a former state treasurer to prison in 2001.
“Private companies that seek to engage state and quasi-public agencies for contracts must understand that fostering good will with state officials and employees cannot involve provision of impermissible gifts,” said Peter Lewandowski, executive director of the ethics office. “Violation of the Code’s gift laws will be forcefully prosecuted by the Office of State Ethics.”
Between May and August 2017, Seabury provided gifts totaling around $800, the ethics office wrote in a statement. This included “food, drinks and a leather personal accessory to a CPA employee and the employee’s spouse at a charity event” in May of that year, and more food and drinks and an overnight stay at a Greenwich club to the same couple in August. Food and drinks also went to a member of the authority’s governing board in August, according to the state ethics office.
The Office of State Ethics does not identify people mentioned in a consent order who are not the focus of that order. The office also does not comment on whether other mentioned people are themselves the focus of another investigation.
In 2019, after securing a contract to advise the authority, Seabury Capitol provided another $2,300 in gifts, according to the report. These included food, drinks and a leather handbag to an authority employee and that employee’s spouse in April, and food, drinks and National Hockey League tickets to two authority employees in May, 2019.
The ethics office added that “prior to the initiation of this ethics matter, Seabury received reimbursement from the recipients for the cost of the hockey tickets and the May 9, 2019 food and drinks.”
But because these items weren’t reimbursed within 30 days of receipt, as required by state law, the gifts still were a violation. The other gifts from Seabury in 2017 and 2019 were not reimbursed by the recipients.
State law “prohibits any person from knowingly giving, directly or indirectly, gifts to a public official or state employee when that person is doing business or seeking to do business with that public official or state employee’s agency or department.”
The authority hired Seabury in May 2018 to help with the search for an operator of the state pier in New London. The new operator would help transform the pier into the staging area for a major, offshore wind-to-energy project.
The authority issued a $700,000 payment to Seabury that included a $523,000 “success” or reward fee — and that happened three months after Henry Juan III of Greenwich, who was a managing director with Seabury, had resigned from the authority board.
The state’s contracting board adopted a report in February that compared this success fee with the “finder’s fees” the General Assembly banned more than two decades ago. That ban followed a scandal in the late 1990s that sent then-state Treasurer Paul Silvester to prison.
Silvester, a West Hartford Republican, was sentenced to 21 months in prison after admitting he had accepted kickbacks, often referred to as “finder’s fees,” in exchange for steering investment of state-controlled pension funds.
Jeffrey Erickson, who signed Tuesday’s ethics consent order as acting chief financial officer for Seabury, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
Scott Bates of Stonington, who chaired the port authority’s Board of Directors from 2017 through May 2019, also could not be reached.
Lamont appointed one of his chief economic development officials, David Kooris, in July 2019 to chair the authority board and to overhaul operations.
“This is an unfortunate reminder of issues that occurred under prior leadership,” Kooris wrote in a statement. “ … Under new leadership, beginning in late 2019, the authority performed a complete overhaul of its policies and procedures. With the assistance of the Office of Policy and Management and outside auditors, the authority updated its ethics policies and all employees and board members now receive annual ethics training and certifications. Contractors are similarly made aware of the proper protocols.”
Kooris added that “authority stakeholders should be reassured that matters from the past will be thoroughly and transparently investigated.”
Besides the state, other major “stakeholders” in this matter include Gateway Terminal — the firm hired to develop state pier — and Eversource and Ørsted North America, which will develop the wind farm.
The pier project, priced three years ago at $93 million, also has been criticized for several cost hikes which now place the price tag at more than $255 million. Connecticut’s share now stands at $178 million, with $77.5 million coming from private partners.