Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin accused of ‘pay to play’ scheme in Dillon Stadium

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Hartford mayoral candidate and former Mayor Eddie Perez is calling for an investigation into Mayor Luke Bronin’s role in the improper spending of more than $4 million in public funds on Dillon Stadium construction.

Perez, who served as mayor for nine years before leaving office in 2010 amid a corruption scandal, was responding to a state audit released Friday that charges the Capital Region Development Authority with spending $4,039,356 in state bond funds on the soccer stadium before it had reached a formal agreement with the city and a professional sports franchise.

By the time the city finalized an agreement on Feb. 25 with Hartford Sports Group, which owns the Hartford Athletic soccer team, CRDA had already been funding construction for seven months, according to the audit.

On Monday, Perez asserted that the spending was related to campaign contributions Bronin received this year from Dillon Stadium’s general contractor, Newfield Construction, and architect, JCJ Architecture, along with donations members of the Hartford Sports Group made to Bronin’s 2015 campaign.

Perez called the improper spending an effort "to ignore the law to benefit the wealthy stadium developers and owners of the soccer team who have donated generously to his campaigns.”

“It is time for the state to investigate this brazen ‘pay to play’ scheme," Perez said.

Amanda Sands, a spokesperson for Bronin’s campaign, said it was “laughable that Eddie Perez of all people would make a claim like this.”

Perez pleaded guilty to corruption charges last year to avoid prison time in the corruption case that ended his tenure as mayor. The state Supreme Court also revoked his nearly $28,000 annual pension over the bribe Perez accepted from a commercial contractor, and an attempted payoff he condoned for a North End political boss.

“If Eddie Perez wants to make this campaign about who’s the best steward of taxpayer dollars, we’re happy to do that,” Sands said. "Unlike prior administrations’ attempts to rebuild Dillon Stadium, Mayor Bronin asked an independent entity to run an RFP process and make a recommendation to the city, asked the independent Capital Region Development Authority to oversee construction, secured funding from state and private sources, and kept the public informed and involved the whole way through.”

According to campaign finance reports, Newfield Construction president Damien Davis and executive vice president Brian Ouellette have both donated $1,000 to Bronin’s campaign — the maximum amount allowed by law.

Five members of JCJ Architecture have contributed to Bronin’s current campaign: President Peter Stevens and chief operating officer Scott Celella gave $1,000 each; chief architectural officer James LaPosta gave $500; architect Josye Utick gave $400; project designer Josye Utick gave $400 — as well as $100 to Bronin’s exploratory bid for governor; and senior project manager Bruce Kellogg gave $100.

The principals of Hartford Sports Group — Bruce Mandell, Scott Schooley and Joseph Calafiore — have not given to Bronin’s current campaign.

However, when Bronin was running his Democratic primary challenge campaign against then-Mayor Pedro Segarra in 2015, Mandell and four other members of his family each gave $1,000, according to campaign finance reports reviewed by The Courant.

So did HSG lobbyists David Kozak and Adam Salina, who were both also employed individually at Mandell’s direct mail company in Newington, Data-Mail Inc., for several years ending in 2009.

That all added up to $7,000 in contributions to Bronin from: Bruce Mandell; brother Mark Mandell, brother-in-law Scott Braunstein; mother and father Joyce and Andrew Mandell, founders of Data-Mail; and Kozak and Salina.

Kozak and Salina have also given $500 each to Bronin’s current campaign.

Mandell remains the subject of a state investigation into potentially illegal campaign contributions, which created a major obstacle for HSG.

In late 2018, Mandell, his wife and his college freshman daughter made a total of $44,000 in campaign contributions to the state Republican Party and gubernatorial nominee Bob Stefanowski. If the State Elections Enforcement Commission were to determine Mandell violated clean election laws, HSG could be disqualified from contracting with a quasi-state agency like the CRDA.

In February, Bronin and city council cleared the way for Dillon Stadium by turning the three-way contract between HSG, the city and CRDA into a pair of contracts — one between the city and HSG, the other between the city and CRDA.

Bronin, Mandell, Kozak and Salina have previously told The Courant that the contributions were unrelated to the mayor’s role in the Dillon project.

Read the original Hartford Courant story here.

TJ ClynchComment