Connecticut Post reports FBI investigation into grant distribution in Milford

UPDATE: The Connecticut Post reported Monday that the FBI Public Corruption Task Force has been investigating how federal grant money was spent in Milford, but city officials maintain that it’s premature to cast negative aspersions upon the city or the administration.

According to the Connecticut Post article, “The FBI is looking into the possible misuse of funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, a source with knowledge of the investigation said. Milford may be only the first of many waterfront communities to be scrutinized. In recent days City Hall employees have been interviewed by federal investigators, who have seized documents.”

While rumors about an FBI probe involving Milford have been circulating for more than a month, city officials have not confirmed that, nor did an FBI spokesman, who said the FBI does not comment on matters under investigation unless charges are filed.

On Monday morning, Mayor Ben Blake said he was not aware of an FBI investigation and that he, too, had heard rumors. He said the FBI has not requested anything from his office.

“It’s unfortunate to read the speculation and rumors surrounding the CT Post story,” Blake said Tuesday. “At this point, the only thing we know from the story is that an unnamed former employee was interviewed and asked a broad range of questions. No one has contacted my office about any investigation. With that said, if there is an investigation, we welcome it, and will support it in every way we can.”

Blake said any allegations that may concern contractors or former employees of the City of Milford are troubling and that he has reached out to investigative authorities to inquire further, offering the help and the services of his office.

“Let it be very clear, should any kind of misconduct within our city be discovered, my office will address it quickly and decisively,” Blake said.

Democratic Town Committee Chairman Rich Smith in October said the rumors of an FBI probe were unfounded. “Categorically untrue,” Smith said.

He maintained that position this week, at the same time that Republican Town Committee Chairman Paul Beckwith demanded more answers from city leaders.

In a prepared statement, Smith said, “I know the mayor’s office had not been contacted by the FBI regarding any investigation up to this point, so for his office to issue a press release based upon rumors, as [Republican Town Committee Chairman Paul Beckwith] suggests, would be wrong and beneath the office. I also know Mayor Blake takes these rumors seriously and has called the FBI in the wake of the CT Post article to see if he could learn more. Until such time as there are actual facts, I would hope Paul would work on something useful like his famous Christmas display.”

A former city employee, who did not want to be named, said Monday that he was called to the Bridgeport FBI office about four months ago and questioned about how contracts are managed and awarded in Milford. The former employee said the FBI questioned several former city employees about the workings of the city.

”The line of questioning seemed to focus on kickback-type corruption,” the former employee said, adding that the FBI agent asked about protocol in terms of awarding contracts. But the former city employee told the FBI that while he disagreed with some city decisions he did not see any sign of corruption or illegal activity when he worked in Milford.

On Monday afternoon, after the Connecticut Post story broke, Beckwith issued a call for an explanation.

“The people of Milford deserve honesty, openness and transparency from all their leaders,” Beckwith said in a letter to the media.

“What has been the worst-kept secret for months within the halls of city government has now been confirmed,” Beckwith said.

“A week after Milford voters went to the polls and re-elected Mayor Blake, the good people of Milford now learn of this investigation. We ask Mayor Blake why, if he had heard of these rumors, didn’t he immediately launch an investigation to find out what was going on within his administration?” Beckwith wrote. “And why hasn’t he, without prompting, been forthcoming about this important matter that the citizens deserved to know weeks ago?

“We deserve leadership and answers, and I ask Mayor Blake to publicly address this investigation before he is sworn in next week,” Beckwith said.

Smith responded, saying, “It’s sad that Republican Town Chairman Paul Beckwith chooses to politicize this issue. Instead of trying to tear people down based upon rumors and speculation, he should join the mayor and the larger Milford community and wait until we know the facts before he speaks.

“At this point there is nothing known about an alleged investigation beyond the fact that a former employee(s) was interviewed,” Smith wrote in a statement to the media. “To speculate beyond that is reckless and irresponsible and, in Paul’s case, a desperate political stunt I think will backfire on him.”