A construction management firm at the center of a federal grand jury investigation into school building grants has won two no-tender contracts worth a combined $530,000 to oversee the construction of a a new primary school in Tolland – during the same period, she took on the daughter of Constantin Diamantis.
Diamantis was director of the Office of Grants and School Construction Review until his resignation on October 28.
Tolland officials hired Plainfield-based Construction Advocacy Professionals, or CAPs, to first oversee the installation of portable classrooms at Birch Grove Elementary School on June 20, 2019, according to contracts Connecticut obtained. Mirror. They were paid $70,000 for the work.
Then, in July 2019, CAP hired Diamantis’ daughter, Anastasia, according to documents.
A few weeks later, an amendment to the contract, granting CAP $460,000 in additional work, was signed on September 18, 2019 for the construction of a new school in Birch Grove. The old school had to be replaced immediately as the foundations were crumbling.
The initial contract was signed by Tolland Schools Superintendent Walter Willett and Antonietta DiBenedetto, one of CAP’s owners, while the second was signed by then-City Manager Michael Rosen and DiBenedetto, according to archives.
Willett and Rosen did not return numerous phone calls to their offices on Friday, but Willett issued a written statement at the Hartford Courant.
In his statement, Willett alleged that local Tolland officials were pressured by Diamantis to choose CAP and another contractor, D’Amato Construction, for the school construction project.
“Representatives for the city and council felt they had little choice between CAP and D’Amato, as Mr. Diamantis repeatedly pointed out that there would be adverse effects on the project if Tolland chose contractors or consultants other than CAP or D’Amato,” he said, according to the statement provided to The Courant.
Kosta Diamantis’ daughter Anastasia could not be reached for comment.
Norm Pattis, who represents Kosta Diamantis, said Friday evening that “we are eager to speak to the federal authorities about all of this, but they have not contacted us, and we don’t know why.”
West Hartford attorney Craig Raabe of Izard, Kindall & Raabe said Friday he is representing CAP and DiBenedetto and they will not comment.
According to statements included in a recent report compiled by former U.S. Attorney Stanley Twardy Jr., Anastasia Diamantis told investigators that CAP’s owner “called her out of the blue and offered her the job.”
She described CAP as a Rhode Island-based company. But she also acknowledged that she had worked on school projects in Connecticut for CAP. Anastasia said “she was working on spreadsheets and making deposits for CAP,” according to the investigation report.
Diamantis’ influence under investigation
Anastasia Diamantis’ job at CAP wasn’t the only job she held that was of interest to investigators.
Twardy was hired by Governor Ned Lamont to conduct an independent review of how Anastasia Diamantis secured an executive assistant position in the office of Chief State Attorney Richard Colangelo – at the same time Colangelo was lobbying on Kosta Diamantis to help him get pay raises for Colangelo’s office staff.
Kosta Diamantis was also an undersecretary in the Office of Policy and Management, the agency that could approve such salary increases.
On October 28, Diamantis was removed from his OPM position by the governor’s office and suspended with pay from the school’s construction job. Rather than accept the suspension, Diamantis retired. He has since filed a grievance with the State Employees Review Board, alleging he was targeted by the administration after complaining that two of Lamont’s top aides, Joshua Geballe and Paul Mounds, had disrespected OPM Secretary Melissa McCaw.
Meanwhile, a federal grand jury returned a subpoena to the Department of State Administrative Services on October 20 for all emails, text messages, and attachments involving Kosta Diamantis and a wide range of construction projects.
Federal authorities sent an addendum to that subpoena eight days later asking the state to prioritize 19 search terms — including Anastasia, Antoinetta, DiBenedetto-Roy, Construction Advocacy Professionals and Birch Grove.
The Birch Grove School project was deemed an emergency by state lawmakers in January 2019 after tests revealed the school’s foundation was cracking because the concrete used to build the foundation contained pyrrhotite, a mineral that deteriorated cement in foundations and homes and buildings all over eastern Connecticut.
The state initially agreed to pay 89% of the project costs and waived normal tendering procedures due to the urgency.
The state funded two contracts – the first for about $9 million to build portable classrooms on the site so students could go to school while the old school was demolished and replaced. The state also accepted a $46 million contract to build the new school on the same site on Rhodes Road.
The schedule was tight, as officials wanted the new school to open in time for the first day of school in 2021.
The Tolland School Board established the Birch Grove Building Committee, which began meeting in May 2019.
Diamantis appeared to the committee multiple times in person and later via Zoom during the pandemic to discuss everything from the design of the new school, to timely submissions of change orders, to questions about budget increases — to a point, notifying the band when a $2 million addition happened due to ground issues, according to minutes of the meeting.
He first appeared at a June 18, 2019 meeting to answer questions from the committee about the cost of laptops, availability of design options and overall costs. Tony D’Amato, the owner of D’Amato Construction, who had just been named the builder, also attended the meeting, according to the minutes.
Two days after this meeting, Construction Advocacy Professionals was hired as the construction manager for the Birch Grove project.
Minutes show that Diamantis attended an October meeting to ensure the committee submitted change orders to the state in a timely manner so they could be reviewed by its 16-member team.
“Mr. Diamantis explained that the purpose of the construction committee is to get the project moving and on schedule, as well as to ensure that it is an adaptable design. School will need to be somewhat similar to the original building. Based on the recognition of the need for additional space, an exception has been made and an agreement is in place which states that the standard of space is not involved. says the minutes of the Oct. 1 meeting.
2 million dollars of soil
After demolishing the old school, the contractors encountered a serious problem almost immediately: the floor could not support the weight of the new school and had to be replaced.
The cost would be nearly $2 million, significantly increasing the total budget, but because the city had approved a budget of $46 million in a referendum, the committee could not exceed that amount without special approval.
Diamantis attended the May 19, 2020, committee meeting to discuss the issue of soils and budget implications, according to the minutes.
Diamantis “addressed the situation of unsuitable soil and expressed concern that the city has no record of it. He is a little shocked at the degree of unsuitable soil, over 1 million, which is withdrawn and cuts must be made to reduce the project to $46 million if the city is unable to provide additional funding,” the minutes state.
Because the city had approved spending no more than $46 million, committee members began discussing what could be cut from the project to bring the budget back into line.
“Mr. Kosta noted that cuts can be made, but they must keep the building healthy and provide an adequate educational experience. He would like to keep the project at $46 million unless the excess is needed,” indicates the minutes.
The committee’s budget concerns were eased a week later when D’Amato made a surprise announcement that the state had agreed to cover the $2 million cost to remove and replace the floor.
The Legislature ultimately not only approved the additional $2 million for the floor, but also agreed to fund the entire project – all $57 million.
The project stayed within its $46 million budget and the school opened on time for the 2021 school year, although contractors completed small items throughout the building through October.