A new task force has been put in place to combat persistent problems of embezzlement and fraud by public officials in “Corrupticut.”

On Feb. 4, U.S. Attorney Deirdre Daly and representatives from five law enforcement agencies announced the formation of the Connecticut Public Corruption Task Force, which aims to investigate corrupt public officials, misuse of public funds and related criminal activity. Daly said that, for the first time in Connecticut, agents and inspectors have been brought together to work for a single investigative unit that will have primary responsibility for investigating public corruption.

“[Fighting] corruption has been a priority for our office for decades, but this is a persistent and troubling problem. It is time to have a top-notch team and a hotline in place,” Daly said during a press conference last week.

Connecticut has faced a reputation of corruption for over a decade. A 2003 New York Times article reported that in a two-week period in March 2003, three separate scandals among political officials had been discovered. Currently, former Gov. John Rowland, who resigned after a corruption case in 2004, is seeking a retrial for a case of election fraud that happened during the 2012 congressional campaign.

Seeking to address these types of incidents, the task force is being coordinated by Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher M. Mattei, chief of the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s Financial Fraud and Public Corruption Unit. The FBI will be the task force’s lead agency, and, according to the press release, has committed resources to support all investigations the task force chooses to take.

The task force FBI Special Agent in Charge Patrick Ferrick said the New Haven division of the FBI is joining forces with federal agency partners to combat public corruption throughout Connecticut. He added that public corruption at any level — federal, state or local — will not be tolerated.

“Public servants are entrusted by all of us to act in the best interests of the public they serve,” he said in the press release. “It is important for the United States to bring to justice those who betray that trust.”

The task force — which despite the recent announcement began operations a few months ago — has already made significant progress. On Jan. 21, federal authorities investigated and consequently arrested the former finance director of Plymouth, Conn., David Bertnagel, who had embezzled over $800,000 of federal aid intended for the town. According to prosecutors in the case, Bertnagel had written more than 200 unauthorized checks to himself between 2011 and 2014.

At a Feb. 4 press conference, Daly said Bertnagel’s case is only one of many recent high-profile cases of corruption in the state. Despite a number of prosecutions, corruption within the state is a persistent problem, Daly added.

William Offord, special agent in charge of the Internal Revenue Service, said public trust is broken when officials who have been elected or appointed commit crimes motivated by greed and personal financial gain.

Money abused by police officials takes social services away from society’s most vulnerable members, said Phillip Coyne, special agent in charge of the Boston Regional Office of the Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General. He said his department, by investigating financial fraud with the task force, will ensure appropriate funding for social services for children.

Since the announcement of the task force last week, billboards promoting the initiative have appeared in some Connecticut cities with the most cases of government corruption: Bridgeport, Waterbury and Hartford. According to the Connecticut Post, motorists driving south on I-95 can now view a sign encouraging them to “report corruption now,” providing details of how to contact the task force.

Along with the new task force, Daly announced that there is a new hotline where citizens can report and provide tips. She added that there was no resource more valuable to this cause than local citizens urging people with knowledge of corrupt officials to reach out to the FBI by calling 1-800-CALL-FBI.

 

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