Jon Lender: Questions raised over officials contacting FBI to eavesdrop on CT Lottery chairman with mic concealed in eyeglass case

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Key state legislators and Gov. Ned Lamont are raising questions about the Connecticut Lottery Corp. (CLC) after Tuesday’s disclosure by CLC Vice President Chelsea Turner that around 2014, she contacted a friend of hers in the FBI with suspicions about possible wrongdoing by Frank Farricker, then the CLC’s governing board chairman — and the FBI soon had then-lottery CEO Anne Noble record Farricker secretly in at least one meeting.

A small recording device was concealed inside Noble’s eyeglass case to capture Farricker’s comments, Turner testified under oath at a hearing by the state’s chief human rights referee on a whistleblower complaint by an ex-lottery official, who claims he was a victim of his bosses’ retaliation.

The heretofore-undisclosed FBI probe — which Turner didn’t recall the exact timing of, but estimated it happened around 2014 — apparently uncovered nothing worth pursuing criminally, and resulted in no action against Farricker.

But its belated disclosure, years after the fact, now is drawing sharp questions from lawmakers who oversee legalized gambling in Connecticut, and from the first-year governor who’s just starting to come to grips with conflicts that still linger at the quasi-public lottery agency after several recent years of turmoil and internal discord.

Thursday brought several developments:

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  •  Lamont’s 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.”
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  •  Two state lawmakers who’ve played big roles in investigative hearings about problems at the CLC — Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano and Democratic Rep. Joe Verrengia — sent Turner a letter with a list of detailed questions about what led to the FBI’s secret recording of Farricker. “While the legislature has closely examined multiple controversies [involving the CLC] over the last few years,” they wrote, “your testimony as reported by the Hartford Courant presented new information that has never been shared” with legislators. “What unethical dealings were you aware of?” Verrengia and Fasano noted that when Noble stepped down as the CLC’s president/CEO in September 2016, Farricker became interim CEO in addition to his existing role as chairman of the CLC Board of Diretctors. “Why didn’t you raise any objections to this appointment, given your previous concerns?” they asked.
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  •  Verrengia, co-chairman of the legislative public safety committee that oversees the lottery, said in an interview that if Turner and Noble “had the level of concern that led them to contact the FBI, then they should have shared it with the appropriate people in the organization, including the board and the director of security.” By not doing that, they “compromised the integrity” of the key revenue-raising agency, he said.
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  •  Farricker, who said after Turner’s testimony Tuesday that he’d never been contacted by the FBI and was “flabbergasted” to learn he’d been under suspicion, told Goverment Watch on Thursday: “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.”
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  •  The lottery’s director of public relations and social media, Tara Chozet, issued this statement: “Some of the information brought forward in this week’s hearings was new to the Lottery. We’ll be looking into it to determine any next steps.”
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  •  Early Thursday morning, Greg Smith, the lottery’s CEO since July 2018, sent an internal email to all CLC employees about Turner’s testimony, saying, “Many of you may have read the report in Wednesday’s Hartford Courant related to Tuesday’s hearing. The report highlights actions by a former employee and former board member who are no longer associated with the CLC. 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.”
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One place Smith didn’t tell employees to report their ethical concerns was the FBI, which is where Turner and Noble went with theirs.

Although Smith’s email mentioned “a former employee and former board member” — Noble and Farricker, respectively — he omitted any reference to his current top lieutenant, Turner, even though she acknowledged Tuesday she’d been a key player in the episode.

Turner testified she was the one who reached out and reported her suspicions to a friend from college who’s now a special agent in the FBI, Jennifer Berry, and Berry put her in touch with another agent who pursued the inquiry. That second agent, whom she did not name, talked to Noble, who also was suspicious of Farricker, and arranged for Noble to record Farricker without his knowledge during at least one meeting, Turner testified. Turner didn’t know how many times Farricker was recorded, or if anyone else was.

Noble’s attorney, Ray Hassett, confirmed Tuesday that Noble, who now lives in New York State, “was asked to wear a wire by the FBI. She did so willingly in connection with matters that were unrelated to her own acts or omissions and over which she shared serious concerns.”

 FBI answers no questions

However, the FBI did not confirm its role in the secret monitoring operation that Turner and Hassett described.

“There is no comment,” Charles Grady, community outreach specialist in the FBI’s New Haven field office, said late Thursday afternoon.

A day earlier, The Courant had submitted a list of questions to Grady, none of which were answered. They included: whether the FBI would confirm its inquiry into the lottery and what the operation involved; how the FBI listening operation was authorized; what the FBI was told Farricker was suspected of doing, in order to get it to investigate him; how many times Farricker was listened to; who else may have been investigated/listened to, and how many times; how long the investigation lasted; and what the final outcome was.

The FBI has official procedures to authorize warrantless “consensual monitoring” of a person — that is, the kind of secret recording that was done by Noble with Farricker — without any grand jury being convened or warrant obtained. It’s allowed as long as it has the consent of one of the participants in the conversation to be recorded and several legal criteria are met, including sufficient justification that specific criminal activity may be occurring. Approval by an FBI supervisor and a federal prosecutor are required. The consenting participant is generally briefed and/or rehearsed on what to say.

Grady was asked if this was a case of consensual monitoring, but, again, he had no comment.

 Surprise testimony

The occasion for Turner’s surprise disclosure was a hearing Tuesday into a complaint by the CLC’s now-retired director of security, Alfred DuPuis, that he was the victim of retaliation by Turner and others when he was charged with “gross neglect” of duty in February 2018 — over a drawing which his subordinates botched on Jan. 1, 2018. (Hearings were conducted Tuesday and Wednesday in the case that will resume later this year, on dates yet to be selected.)

DuPuis retired late in 2018 rather than face potential disciplinary action. He is seeking compensation for what he claims — and the lottery denies — was payback for his disclosure of problems in the 5 Card Cash game that was cancelled in late 2015 amid a retailer fraud scandal.

Turner was at the witness table in the state office building on Columbus Boulevard in Hartford, when DuPuis’ attorney, Eric Brown, started asking her about her past working relationship with Farricker, an active Greenwich Democrat who was Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s appointee to head the lottery’s governing board. Farricker had testified earlier in support of DuPuis’ claims that Turner had tried to get Farricker to fire him. Turner swore she never made such a request about DuPuis.

But as for Farricker, she said she “never trusted” him and had suspected him of unethical personal dealings. She said both she and Noble were “uncomfortable with Mr. Farricker. There’s a lot of reasons to be uncomfortable with Mr. Farricker. He operated by his own rules.”

Brown asked her whether she’d reported this to the Office of State Ethics. She said no, but she’d talked to lottery board members about it. Then Brown followed up with: “Apart from the reports that … you made to the board of directors, did you make reports about Frank Farricker’s s alleged nefarious actions to any other entity, person or body?”

“Yes.”

“Who?”

“The FBI,” she said.

“You never told anybody either in the General Assembly, the governor’s office or the Connecticut Lottery [Corp.] that … Ms. Noble was recording surreptitiously conversations she was having with Frank Farricker?” Brown said. He asked if she had ever told DuPuis, the lottery’s director of security, who was responsible for ensuring “the integrity of Connecticut’s lottery games.”

She said no, because “the concerns were more ethical concerns.. … They weren’t concerns with [the] gaming system, necessarily. … I went to someone that was familiar to me.”

She gave a few examples of her concerns. About five years ago, when Turner held a lower rank than her current $190,000-a-year vice president post, she said her job was to in effect lobby for the CLC with the General Assembly. But she said Farricker had told her, as chairman of the lottery board, to stop talking to lawmakers on the Keno issue, which she thought was odd. She said she’d heard Farricker, a real estate businessman, had been lobbying for funds for a Norwalk nonprofit theater redevelopment project he was involved in, and she also questioned a Farricker agreement for a promotional contract with Mohegan Sun tribal casino that she believed wasn’t worth what the lottery was paying.

The 5 Card Cash scandal led to pressure for Noble to depart as president/CEO of the lottery in September 2016, when she entered a controversial separation agreement that gave her an extra few months on the payroll in a consulting role to qualify her for state retirement benefits.

After Noble quit, Farricker filled in as interim CEO until May 2017, when he resigned after first attempting to become permanent CEO. Later in 2017, Farricker also paid a $5,000 fine to the state’s ethics agency for billing the lottery for expenses, including his home cable TV, personal cellphone and internet service, which he was ordered to reimburse.

As controversy continues, Lamont’s spokesperson, La Luz, acknowledged Thursday the governor needs to appoint a permanent chairperson for the lottery’s board of directors. The position has been vacant since Malloy’s most recent appointee, Don DeFronzo, resigned late last year.

“The Governor intends to appoint a new chair as soon as possible” La Luz said in an email. “The position is extremely critical and has been high on the radar since the Governor first took office. Because … we weren’t sure during the course of the regular [legislative] session whether the lottery might have been given authority to operate additional games, such as sports betting, the Governor has been taking the time to ensure he appoints the appropriate person with the appropriate background.”

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