New Canaan officials discuss possible criminal investigation in pension issue
Updated 5:28 pm, Tuesday, November 13, 2012
Members of New Canaan's pension committee spoke out in favor of a criminal investigation into Former First Selectman Jeb Walker's pension issue, but decided to postpone the vote until they know the costs associated with an investigation.
"To keep this committee transparent, I feel that it has to go to law enforcement," Tony Ryan, the committee's fire department union representative, said at Tuesday's meeting.
Mike O'Sullivan, who represents the police department's union, agreed.
The pension committee, whose members also include First Selectman Rob Mallozzi, CFO Dawn Norton and Board of Finance member Mary Cody, was tasked with deciding whether to pursue a criminal investigation following an Oct. 16 report by the law firm Bishop, Jackson & Kelly which stated that Walker and former CFO Gary Conrad violated the town's ethics policy and the Town Code. The report was inconclusive on whether the actions represented criminal activity.
"While it is unclear whether the former CFO and former first selectman knew their actions were incorrect, it appears that both were in a position to know that their actions in approving the benefits were improper," the report stated. "In approving the benefits, they used the power of their official positions, intentionally or not, to provide an improper benefit to the former first selectman at the expense of the plan. For that reason, there is reason to believe that both individuals are in violation of the code."
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The report continued, "If the former CFO or the former first selectman [were] to take the extra benefits with the knowledge that the first selectman had no rights to the benefits, it is possible that the conduct constitutes a criminal violation such as larceny or theft. On the other hand, if actions were done by mistake as to fact or law, with no intent to deprive the pension fund of money, it is equally possible there is no criminal wrongdoing."
At Tuesday's meeting, Mallozzi said committee members must determine whether or not Walker or Conrad acted illegally.
"The most important part, in my opinion, was that the lawyer recommended that the town submit the issue to the pension committee," Mallozzi said. "Does it violate state law? Did Gary [Conrad] have the right to do it on his own? Did Jeb [Walker] have obligation not to take the money?"
While the majority of members were in favor of a criminal investigation, the committee postponed its decision following questions from Cody, who wanted information about the town's financial liabilities in pursuing any type of criminal investigation.
Cody said that the town could be on the hook for legal bills if it decides to push forward by referring the matter to police. She expressed that she would not want to make a decision on this issue before she knew what the cost would be.
"You're going to have attorney costs ... . If you're going to turn it over to law enforcement, who's going to represent the pension committee?" she asked.
Police Commissioner Jim Cole, speaking from the audience, said he supported a criminal investigation. He also said the New Canaan Police would not investigate, since its union members are paid out of the same pension fund. He said it would likely be an investigations unit of the state police.
"It's reasonably straightforward," Cole said. "I don't think it's going to take a lot of time. I don't think you have any liability. This isn't so different from someone who shoplifted and returned the merchandise to the store."
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