Ganim hires governmental oversight firm during FBI probe
BRIDGEPORT — The FBI has subpoenaed municipal documents involving three local contractors.
Two high level public facilities staffers were recently fired, and one of those — Deputy Director Jose Tiago — has hired a criminal attorney.
With scandal hovering over his administration, Mayor Joe Ganim on Friday took another step to try and reassure the general public and voters — this is a re-election year — that he has matters under control.
The mayor announced that Guidepost Solutions, a New York-based consulting firm with a global reach, will review purchasing, the handling of cash and other government functions, “toward correcting some of the problems and challenges that have come to light.”
According to Guidepost’s website, the company “offers global investigations, compliance, monitoring and security and technology consulting solutions for clients in a wide range of industries. Our expert team provides leadership and strategic guidance to address critical client needs across the globe.”
Ganim said that Joseph Jaffe, Guidepost’s chief compliance officer and deputy general counsel, would be working with the City Attorney’s Office. He will earn $425 an hour and will be paid out of a $75,000 budget line item the law department uses to hire outside counsel to assist the City Attorney’s in-house legal team.
Lesser rates of around $270 an hour will apply to other Guidepost experts Jaffe may call upon.
Jaffe, according to his employer, was the former District Attorney for Sullivan County, N.Y., and worked for seven years in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York helping to oversee the criminal and corruption divisions. He was also an Acting Chief Inspector for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, where he investigated and tried business fraud and public corruption cases.
Ganim emphasized that Jaffe and Guidepost “will stay in their lane” and not be involved in the FBI’s ongoing criminal probe of illicit scrap metal sales and alleged handing out of no-bid contracts.
Sources have said around $25,000 worth of proceeds are missing from off-the-books sales of scrap metal for cash by Bridgeport employees.
The FBI recently subpoenaed documents for the past four years worth of scrap metal records, along with documents related to three local companies — Vaz Quality Works, Seaview Equipment Sales and Rentals and G. Pic and Sons Construction.
Tiago, soon after being hired in 2014 by then-Mayor Bill Finch, sold some connected properties to the Vaz family, which opened Seaview Equipment on the site. Tiago, according to municipal records, received $258,786 more than the $586,214 appraised value of the land.
As the scandal, prompted by an anonymous letter to the City Council last fall, has slowly unfolded, Ganim has been announcing new policies and procedures about handling municipal property and issuing contracts. He has also had one of his aides, retired-FBI Agent Ed Adams, monitoring the purchasing department.
Adams was among the team of federal law enforcers who in the late 1990s and early 2000s investigated Ganim during his first stint as mayor and, ultimately, helped convict Ganim of corruption in 2003. Ganim waged a political comeback in 2015 and made Adams a part of his campaign — and then of his administration — to help convince voters he was serious about running a clean government.
Asked Friday if hiring Jaffe was redundant given Adams earns $91,800 as a good government and ethics watchdog, the mayor said, “This is taking it up to 10 times what we might get out of one individual like Ed. I think we want that now.”
Ganim on Friday also continued to claim that some of the problems uncovered recently — particularly the scrap metal sales — were “inherited.” The anonymous letter writer claimed it has only happened since Ganim returned to office and put political ally John Ricci in charge of public facilities. But the FBI’s probe, based on the subpoenas, also reaches back to the last year of Finch’s administration.
Anyone familiar with the FBI scandal that embroiled Ganim years ago might recollect that, when federal authorities began probing city deal-making with three top development firms, the mayor similarly sought to separate himself from the controversy by establishing a committee to review dozens of municipal contracts.
With the new announcement, Council President Aidee Nieves, a Democrat like Ganim, said hiring Guidepost is “a responsible expense.”
“This is an impartial entity that is going to come and ensure that we have corrective action on standard operating procedures, that people will be properly trained, processes corrected and adhered to,” said Nieves who, along with Ganim, met last week with Jaffe. “When you have large operating systems, these things happen and sometimes companies need to rectify their systems.”
But Councilman Peter Spain, a frequent Ganim critic, was not convinced. Spain questioned the City Attorney’s Office’s authority to hire the consultant and whether the money is justified.
“Do we really have funds for this specific purpose?” Spain asked, citing the public schools’ strained budget and high taxes.
“But bring in the greatest lawyer (Jaffe) money can buy? For whose benefit, precisely?” Spain said.