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Connecticut will soon be getting a billion dollars in federal stimulus funds to help make our infrastructure safe. But as the money is spread around, will the process keep us safe from veteran insiders who know how to game the system?

 

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Ruocco, Yorke and Gothberg have all denied wrongdoing. Ruocco and Gothberg, through their attorneys, informed Blumenthal’s investigators they would refuse to answer any questions on Fifth Amendment grounds against self-incrimination, and so were never interviewed. Yorke was interviewed, but refused to talk under oath, also citing Fifth Amendment rights. Yorke, 56, retired from the DEP in 2004 with an annual pension of more than $66,000 a year. Gothberg later resigned. No federal or state charges were ever filed against them.

Beyond the episodes with Yorke and Gothberg, there were also questions about how Ruocco’s company won a $19.5 million contract in 2001 to remove contaminated dirt from the billion-dollar Hartford redevelopment plan called Adriaen’s Landing. Had Ruocco or his company gotten inside information that he’d be able to dump the dirt for free at a Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority (CRRA) landfill and thus reduce the amount of his bid? State offficials denied it, but others wondered.

Yet another Earth Technology job with a CRRA twist, this time to dispose of soil from a DOT project in Southington in 2002, became a source of controversy. In that case, Ruocco paid $2,000 to settle state ethics allegations that he hired an unregistered lobbyist to negotiate a special deal with Peter Ellef, who was at the time both Rowland’s co-chief of staff and CRRA chairman. The arrangement allowed Ruocco to be paid $37 a ton by the DOT for disposal costs, while he paid the CRRA just $3 a ton to dump the dirt at its Hartford landfill.

Ruocco’s lobbyist was Salvatore Brancati Jr., a self-proclaimed dealmaker who’d left his job as New Haven’s economic development director under a cloud because of his ties to local developers. Brancati bragged publicly about his relationship with his “good friend” Ellef in the governor’s office.

In 2006, another Ruocco-related company made headlines. Earth Technology II, which Ruocco helped found, pleaded guilty to a federal corruption charge in connection with a major environmental cleanup project in Derby. The firm was paid some $2.75 million for its work there (which was supervised by Yorke’s DEP unit) between 1999 and 2005.

Under a plea agreement, the company president, Anthony Richardi, was given a year’s probation. His company agreed to pay a $500,000 penalty. State officials barred Earth Technology II from doing state work but ruled Ruocco’s primary operation could continue to bid on state contracts even though both companies operated for years out of the same building. Apparently, shortly before the plea bargain Ruocco sold his interest in Earth Technology II to Richardi.

It was around that time that Blumenthal saw what he considered to be a clear pattern. Within a year, over Blumenthal’s opposition, Ruocco was seeking the $8.8 million DOT contract for work on and around I-91 and I-95 in New Haven. Referring back to the Southington deal, Blumenthal warned DOT officials in a letter that state investigators had estimated Ruocco had overcharged the state by about $200,000 on that contract alone. DOT officials approved the New Haven deal anyway.

Blumenthal says that move eliminated any hope of Connecticut recovering the money from the Southington contract through civil action.

“To sue ETI, we would need the DOT as plaintiffs, as witnesses,” he says. “We have no case without the DOT and they have given their blessing to Ruocco and his company.”

The DOT’s new commissioner, Joe Marie, who took over the agency after Ruocco’s latest contract was approved, declined to be interviewed for this article, but in a statement he says agency officials determined the company to be a “responsible bidder.”

He adds that the DOT has “no performance issues with their work.”

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