For a moment it looked like some meaningful information might be released to the public this week about the latest upheaval at the Connecticut Lottery Corp. (CLC) — this time in the form of an order Monday that lottery Vice President Chelsea Turner be placed on an indefinite leave, six days after disclosing in sworn testimony that she contacted the FBI in about 2014 with suspicions of wrongdoing by a superior.
But it hasn't turned out that way.
The CLC's board of directors scheduled a special meeting Wednesday afternoon, with an agenda to hold a closed-door executive session for "discussion of employment-related conduct of a senior employee" — and, after that, to take possible action.
Even if no action were taken, some public explanation seemed warranted.
Turner had disclosed in explosive testimony, during a July 9 hearing on an ex-lottery official's whistleblower's complaint, that around 2014 she contacted a friend of hers in the FBI about what she considered suspicious actions by Frank Farricker, who then was the CLC's governing board chairman. She said then-lottery CEO Anne Noble also was suspicious of Farricker, and they both talked to the FBI, which had Noble secretly record Farricker in at least one meeting — using a small recording device concealed inside Noble's eyeglass case.
Unanswered questions piled up in following days: What did Turner and Noble tell the FBI about Farricker that got the feds to investigate him? How many times was Farricker recorded without his knowledge, before the inquiry ended with no apparent results? Who else was secretly recorded? (The FBI has not answered any of those questions, nor even confirmed it ever got involved.)
And so Wednesday's special meeting offered the possibility of some insight into lottery President/CEO Greg Smith's decision to place Turner on administrative leave.
But instead, the lottery board called the meeting to order, then met for 80 minutes behind closed doors at its headquarters in Rocky Hill, and emerged only long enough to adjourn the meeting after saying it had taken no votes or official actions during the executive session.
Three top CLC officials — Smith, General Counsel Matthew Stone and Human Resources Director Jodi Ketchale — didn't answer even basic questions from Government Watch immediately after the meeting ended, including whether or not Turner is being paid her $190,000 salary while on leave.
This information is generally available when a public employee is placed on leave at a regular government agency, as opposed to one of the state's quasi-public agencies such as the CLC, which enjoy special powers and greater independence.
Other questions: Is the CLC conducting its own investigation into Turner's conduct, as she described it in her testimony? Does she face potential disciplinary action?
Again, no answers.
Fasano: 'It's poisonous'
This silence prompted criticism from two state lawmakers who have questioned the management of the revenue-raising agency during recent years of turmoil, dating back to a 2015 scandal over fraud by some lottery retailers in the 5 Card Cash game.
"Whether they fire Chelsea [Turner] or not is their decision, but the president [Smith] needs to say, 'We have to change this whole organization.'" said Senate Republican leader Len Fasano of North Haven. "It's poisonous. You have to watch everything, including empty eyeglass cases. What kind of work environment is that? It's pretty scary stuff."
"The two most important attributes of any lottery are transparency and integrity, both of which the lottery continues to fall short of," said Rep. Joe Verrengia, D-West Hartford, co-chair of the legislative public safety committee, which oversees legalized gaming and has held several investigative hearings into CLC operations since 2017.
Verrengia said in a telephone interview this latest incident makes him consider "holding additional hearings" into CLC operations.
Fasano and Verrengia wrote last week to Turner, asking her several questions, after she disclosed the FBI eavesdropping incident during a hearing by a state human rights referee into a whistleblower complaint by the CLC's now-retired director of security, Alfred DuPuis. They said Thursday they'd received a brief acknowledgement back from Smith, to whom they'd sent a copy of the letter, but nothing from Turner.
"They haven't given any substantive answers," Fasano said in a phone interview Thursday. "I am concerned about almost a laissez faire, lackadaisical response from the president... or the [CLC] board itself. This is a very serious issue. It speaks to the dysfunctional management that we saw in the committee's hearings and now we're seeing played out" in the DuPuis hearings.
"The CLC board and CLC president are fully aware of the seriousness of the matter and are aware of the concerned raised by other stakeholders," responded Tara Chozet, the CLC's director of PR and social media. "Because it is a personnel matter, we can disclose very little at this time."
One thing the lottery hasn't disclosed is whatever letter, email or other communication Turner was given when she was placed on her current leave.
Such letters are generally supplied almost immediately upon a reporter's request (in compliance with the state Freedom of Information Act) in cases where a state employee is placed on an involuntary leave while questions about his or her conduct are being investigated. Even the CLC has been quicker about it with other employees in the past. The Courant asked for the letter Monday and has kept asking for it since then. Chozet said Thursday that Smith still intends to release it, perhaps Friday.
By contrast, the state Department of Consumer Protection (DCP), which regulates the lottery to maintain the integrity of its games, immediately released emails it sent to Smith and Turner on Monday after The Courant requested them.
In one, William Ryan, director of the DCP's gaming division, informed Smith his agency "will be initiating an investigation into statements that were made at a recent Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities [h]earing" — which was a reference to Turner's testimony. Ryan wrote that Turner's statements under oath "indicated there may have been a failure, by certain personnel at the Connecticut Lottery Corporation to report incidences or allegations of legal violations in accordance with regulatory requirements... or other licensing requirements." Turner and others at the lottery corporation hold DCP-issued gaming licenses and need to maintain them in order to serve in their top jobs.
Ryan also emailed Turner, telling her of his agency's planned probe and saying an investigator will be contacting her to schedule an interview.
The trouble and questions over Turner's testimony and, now, her administrative leave, just add to a long list of woes at the CLC, starting with the 5 Card Cash scandal and also including:
- The departure of Noble as president/CEO in 2016, the year after the scandal caused cancellation of 5 Card Cash, in a controversial severance agreement crediting her with four months' employment that brought her to a 10-year retirement vesting threshold;
- A million-dollar mistake in a Jan. 1, 2018 New Year's Super Draw drawing, and;
- The whistleblower's complaint in mid-2018 by DuPuis, the ex-director of security who claims Turner and others unfairly targeted him for potential discipline for "gross neglect" in the Super Draw blunder, which was made by DuPuis' subordinates. He says this was in retaliation for his past role in bringing the 5 Card Cash problem to light. Turner and the lottery corporation deny that. DuPuis is seeking compensation, and his complaint was the subject of the July 9 hearing at which Turner testified about her contact with the FBI concerning Farricker. Farricker testified earlier that day in support of DuPuis' claims that Turner wanted him removed as security chief. More hearings are planned in the still-pending case later this year.
When Smith was hired a year ago, after running the Illinois Lottery for years, he inherited the problems that still linger. On July 11, a day after The Courant published a story on Turner's testimony about the FBI eavesdropping incident, Smith sent an email to all CLC employees, saying: "Many of you may have read the report in Wednesday's Hartford Courant related to Tuesday's hearing.... It is important to remind everyone that there is an existing structure and process for reporting concerns about ethical conduct."
He then listed "resources and processes ... to address reporting ethical concerns," including the Office of State Ethics, the CLC's general counsel, the CLC's human resources department, and "your supervisor."
One place Smith didn't tell employees to report their ethical concerns was the FBI, which is where Turner and Noble went with theirs.
Other notable reactions to Turner's testimony have come from:
- Farricker, who said he'd never been contacted by the FBI and was "flabbergasted" to learn he'd been under suspicion, adding: "I am appalled that lottery officials past and present would dangerously abuse their positions of public trust by conducting secret surveillance on me and possibly others. The lies and deceit that have been uncovered in the past few days should shock any person in Connecticut."
- Gov. Ned Lamont, whose communications director, Maribel La Luz, said the governor "remains concerned about the recent history of dysfunction within the management of the CLC and expects the newly hired executive director and CLC Board to take appropriate steps to address these matters." La Luz also said Lamont intends "as soon as possible" to appoint a permanent chairperson for the lottery's board of directors. The "extremely critical" position, as La Luz called it, has been vacant since ex-Gov. Dannel Malloy's most recent appointee, Don DeFronzo, resigned late last year.
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