Rowland investigation continues



As the Connecticut General Assembly works to finish its usual legislative business before next week, members of a committee investigating Gov. John G. Rowland are preparing to be thrust back into the limelight.

While the committee is still in the “fact-finding” stage of its work, its 10 members — as well as others in the legislature — have expressed a desire to provide a recommendation concerning Rowland’s impeachment to the full State House by early summer. But the committee, which was originally intended to finish its proceedings by April 14, has been slowed by uncooperative witnesses and the sheer volume of information surrounding Rowland, members of the committee and others said.

“If anything, the delay is because there is so much out there,” committee member Rep. Michael Lawlor, a Democrat from East Haven, said. “The more you dig here, the more stuff you find.”

Among what both federal investigators and the Select Committee of Inquiry have found are several alleged dealings involving a prominent New Haven businessman, Robert V. Matthews. Matthews, a long-time local developer and business owner, is a close friend of the Republican governor and has received millions in contracts from the state government.

In addition, Matthews has been linked to the purchase of a Washington, D.C. condominium that Rowland sold at well above market value. Last month, antiques dealer Wayne Pratt, also a friend of Matthews, admitted while pleading guilty to tax evasion that he served as a front-man for Matthews in the condominium sale.

Yet while Matthews’ dealings with the state extend well beyond the New Haven area, some transactions closer to home have also earned some scrutiny from the FBI. An office building at 300 George St., which houses several biotechnology firms associated with Yale, has earned attention from investigators due to Matthews’ purchase and subsequent sale of the building in the late 1990s.

In 1996, Matthews bought the building from its long-time owners, Southern New England Telephone Co., for only $500,000. Three years later, the building was purchased by another developer, Winstanley Enterprises, for $27.5 million.

While no formal accusations have been made concerning the George Street property, which has been developed with support from Yale and the city of New Haven, companies located in the building have received several million dollars in financing from state agencies. In addition, the sale of the building to Matthews was approved by state regulators.

But Victor Budnick, the president and executive director of Connecticut Innovations, Inc., said the loans his quasi-public agency and others gave to companies housed in 300 George Street did not even occur while Matthews owned the building. While Budnick said his agency has cooperated fully with federal investigators, he said he thought there was little to be found in the transactions involving the building.

“We didn’t have financial dealings with Matthews and any decisions that were made to assist companies had nothing to do with Matthews,” Budnick said. “Essentially, we’ve given all that information to the FBI. I think we had limited information that was of any interest.”

Matthews’ lawyer did not return messages concerning the investigation, while an FBI spokeswoman said the bureau does not comment on ongoing investigations. Yale General Counsel Dorothy Robinson said she was unaware about any contacts from the FBI concerning 300 George St., declining to comment further on the investigation.

Lawlor and another Democrat on the Select Committee, Rep. Jim Abrams of Meriden, Conn., said the committee will likely look into the 300 George St. transactions, although both said their investigations into Matthews would probably focus on the condo sale.

“Because it’s so simple, I’d imagine the condo is something we’d definitely look at,” Abrams said. “I don’t know, at this point, where the New Haven property will be.”

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