Thursday, January 15, 2009

A Typical Politician?

Connecticut

Gaffey Target Of Probe Into Double Billing

By JON LENDER And EDMUND H. MAHONY | The Hartford Courant
8:04 PM EST, January 15, 2009


A veteran Democratic state senator double-billed the state and his own political action committee for thousands of dollars' worth of expenses for travel and posh hotels over a four-year period, state records show.

The payments to 14-year Sen. Thomas P. Gaffey, D- Meriden, are now under investigation by the State Elections Enforcement Commission.

The commission's investigators also have questioned the fact that Gaffey allowed his girlfriend, Patricia Murphy, to use a cellphone on his PAC's account for an extended period until they broke up in 2007, Gaffey acknowledged. He said he paid for her "nominal" calls on the phone.

Investigators from the enforcement agency took possession months ago of financial documents from Gaffey's political action committee, called the Government Action Fund, and have questioned him about his use of the PAC funds, Gaffey confirmed Thursday. The questions surround flights to several legislative conferences and stays in hotels from about 2004 to 2007 -- at times with Murphy -- for which he solicited and received reimbursements both from the state's legislative management office and his PAC.

For example, Gaffey was reimbursed $613 by the state's legislative management office for three days in August 2006 at the luxury Gaylord Opryland Hotel in Nashville during an annual meeting of the National Conference of State Legislators -- and he got $1,015 from his PAC for the same hotel stay.

Other questions arose concerning similar billings to both the PAC and the state for trips to political events such as national legislators' conferences in cities including Salt Lake City and Seattle.

The expenses apparently amount to several thousand dollars, Gaffey acknowledged Thursday. He said that in the past year, since questions were raised about his PAC's finances, he has gone back and used his personal funds to repay "somewhere around $2,500 or $3,000" to the PAC for its expenditures on trip expenses, and he may end up reimbursing more than $800 more.

Gaffey admitted that he did not immediately repay his PAC for expenditures it made on his behalf for trips as soon as the state reimbursed them. He said he only went back and examined the PAC's books after questions were raised about its finances in Courant columns about a year ago that prompted the current probe by the election enforcement agency.

Gaffey said he never intended to keep money from the double-billing. He had no explanation for why he failed to repay in a timely fashion, other than the fact that the state reimbursements come as part of his regular legislative paychecks and he doesn't look carefully at the stubs -- and that he was inattentive because of how busy he is with both his $100,000-plus job for the state's trash authority and the time he spends as a legislator. "It's a situation where I had too much going on at once."

"This was not intentional," he said. "There were a number of trips that just got by me. ... I feel very badly about it. It's embarrassing." He said proper "controls were not in place" in his PAC to flag payments that it made for him to be sure he repaid the money when the state reimbursed him. "I'm not going to blame anybody else for that.

"We are cooperating fully" with the continuing elections enforcement commission probe, Gaffey said.

The status of that probe is not clear. Commission chairman Stephen Cashman said Thursday he could not discuss details of a case, other than to confirm the investigation "is ongoing and either complete or nearly complete." He said that he does not know when his board will act on the matter.

Cashman was asked if the case was headed for one of the negotiated settlements the commission often agrees to for cases of irregularities and improprieties -- or if the panel might exercise its power to refer the matter to the chief state's attorney for a criminal probe. "I am not ruling in or out anything," he replied.

By last fall, commission investigators had questioned not only Gaffey, the senator acknowledged, but also ex-girlfriend Murphy; the PAC's treasurer, Meriden lawyer Dennis A. Ceneviva; and Gaffey legislative aide Robin Havelin.

Gaffey, 50, has long served as the co-chairman of the General Assembly's education committee. He is also director of recycling and enforcement at the state's quasi-public trash agency, the Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority. He is the deputy president pro tempore of the Senate.

This is not Gaffey's first expense-billing scrape. In 2002, it was revealed that he and another state legislator, then employed by the CRRA, collected state legislators' mileage reimbursements for their trips to and from their homes to Hartford in CRRA vehicles, but had lagged thousands of dollars behind in reimbursing the trash agency for their personal mileage on the same vehicles.

In addition, Gaffey received some unwelcome attention about a year ago when Courant columnist Kevin Rennie revealed that Gaffey was having an affair, confirmed in e-mails, with Connecticut State University System legislative liaison Jill Ferraiolo while he aggressively pushed a billion dollars in bonds for CSU. Rennie also wrote that Gaffey had long made incomplete disclosures on the use of the PAC credit card.

It turns out that the same applies to the PAC's official reports to the elections enforcement commission about the trips now at issue -- because in many cases Gaffey's bookkeeping is hard to follow.

For example, in anticipation of attending the 2005 NCSL conference in Seattle from Aug. 16-20, 2005, Gaffey submitted a travel authorization request to the legislative management office - dated April 8, 2005 - for his stay at the Fairmont Hotel that would cost $1,020. After the trip, he was notified - on Sept. 15, 2005 - that he would be reimbursed $1,834.58 by the General Assembly to cover his expenses, including the room.

Much later, in a Jan. 6, 2006, report filed by his PAC - covering the period from Oct. 1, 2005, to Dec. 31, 2005 - Gaffey charged a $294.77 expenditure for the Fairmont Hotel.

Gaffey said he began going back through the PAC's records after Rennie raised questions, and he knew further questions would follow -- and that was when he discovered that he had failed to repay the PAC properly for expenses connected with several trips. He was contacted later by the commission's investigators, and he turned records over to the agency. The senator said that based on discussions with his lawyer -- former Democratic legislator Thomas Luby, who he said has been in contact with the enforcement commission's staff -- "I am hopeful we'll have a resolution in the very near term." As to the possibility of a criminal investigation, Gaffey said, "that's never, ever been stated."

He said he thinks that the matter might be resolved administratively by a settlement, perhaps forfeiture of the PAC's current assets of about $15,000 to $20,000. Gaffey said the PAC has been inactive for the past year during the probe, and he plans to dissolve it because it has proved more than he can handle.

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Are politicians too busy covering their own tracks to serve constituents and the best interest of the public?
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