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Osten says FBI found nothing amiss in Sprague

October 9, 2018

Sprague — State Sen. Cathy Osten, the town’s first selectwoman, said Tuesday she’s learned that an FBI investigation into her handling of certain town business found nothing wrong.

That information, she said, came from the town’s resident state trooper, Brian Sumner, whom Osten had asked to get in touch with the FBI.

Sumner, in a Facebook post, advised residents “that a complaint had been filed against a town official.”

“A thorough investigation was completed and the complaint was found to be unsubstantiated,” Sumner’s post says. “The investigation is closed at this time.”

An FBI spokesman would neither confirm nor deny that an investigation took place. Sumner could not be reached to elaborate on his Facebook post.

The Day has confirmed that in recent weeks FBI agents interviewed residents of a town-owned apartment building at 41 W. Main St. in the Baltic section, as well as the owner of Norwich farmland where stone and granite removed from the former Baltic Mill site are being stored. Some of those The Day talked to said it was “common knowledge” around town that FBI agents had been interviewing people.

The connection between the FBI’s interest in the apartment building and the removal of material from the mill site is unclear. The investigation also may have encompassed other matters.

Winter Sloan, a tenant in the town-owned building, said two men who identified themselves as FBI agents and displayed the appropriate ID badges knocked on her door in early September. She said they talked to everyone who lived in the building’s five units. Another tenant who declined to give her fulll name also confirmed she had been interviewed by agents.

“They wanted to know about the previous owner,” Winter said. “I don’t know anything about him.”

The town acquired the building several years ago in a foreclosure proceeding, Osten said.

On Tuesday, Helen Cardin, whose family owns about 130 acres at 452 Plain Hill Road in Norwich, said FBI agents questioned her on three separate occasions. She said her nephew, Robert Chmielecki, who lives across the street, was questioned, too. Chmielecki was not at home Tuesday.

Cardin said stones and granite from the former mill site have been trucked to her property and left there without her permission. She said some of the material may have been removed from her property. She declined to say what the FBI agents wanted to know.

In 2017, the state awarded the town a 900,000 contract with Wiese Construction of Norwich to demolish and dispose of Building No. 10 and related structures on the property.

Osten and other town officials called attention to language in the contract specifying that the town will keep granite stone removed from the south face of the building. Granite removed from the east and west sides of the building “will become property of the Contractor and must be removed from the site,” the contract says.

Andre Trudelle, the town’s grant writer and contract manager, said Wiese Construction owns the granite it removes from the former mill site. Paul Burgess, a licensed consultant hired by the town, said he monitors demolition work at the site, which he described as “secure.” He said Wiese Construction has moved some material to the Norwich property.

Mel Wiese, the Wiese Construction owner, could not be reached Tuesday.

Osten, a Democrat who co-chairs the legislature’s Appropriations Committee, is running for a fourth term in the 19th Senate District in the Nov. 6 state election. She suggested her political opponent, Mark Lounsbury, who last year challenged her for the first selectman seat in the municipal election, was behind the complaint that prompted the FBI’s response.

Lounsbury, who was drafted by the Republican Party to run against Osten for the Senate this year, denied having any involvement.

Having served on the town’s Board of Finance before running for first selectman, he said he long has been critical of Osten’s handling of the town’s finances and what he charged is a lack of transparency on her part. He said he’s provided evidence to support his claims to “various officials” over the years.

Osten and Lounsbury are scheduled to debate at 7 p.m. Thursday at Kelly Magnet Middle School in Norwich.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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