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Grand Jury Investigates City Contractor 'No Show' Job

JEFFREY B. COHEN

April 14, 2009

An insurance salesman who helped bring Diggs Construction to Hartford to manage its massive school construction project in 2001 says the company later gave him a $24,000, two-year job.

But he says he only did half a year's worth of work.

"He paid me for two years, a thousand dollars a month for two years," said Russell Williams, one-time head of the Greater Hartford branch of the NAACP hired by Diggs to do insurance consulting work.

"But the actual work, probably, at the very most couldn't have been more than six months."

Williams and Diggs take quite different views of his work at the company. That said, Williams' work for Diggs has caught the eye of state investigators looking into corruption in the city, according to documents provided by the company. The grand jury's 18-month probe is over at the end of April.

Nancy Jochens, Diggs Construction's lawyer, confirmed that Williams was paid for work he didn't do. The reason, she said, was that Williams was hard to work with, so it was more "economical" to pay him to stay away, lest they fire him and he sue.

"[Williams] made their life difficult and they said, 'You know what? You don't have to come in all the time. We'll just call you when we need you,'" Jochens said. "And they just never called him back."

"The scenario that they have created is absurd at best," Williams said.

Diggs' hiring practices in the city have been of interest to the grand jury investigating allegations of corruption in the administration of Mayor Eddie A. Perez, various people familiar with the investigation have said.

Last year, The Courant reported that Diggs hired three people who had been on the six-member committee that picked the company in 2001: onetime school trustee D. Anwar Al-Ghani; Urban League of Greater Hartford CEO James Willingham; and former city councilman and school building committee chairman Louis Watkins.

Now, add Williams to that list. And add another, former city employee Edward Lazu. Lazu arrested in January on bribery charges unrelated to Diggs got a $6,000 consulting job in 2003 with Diggs when he was between jobs. That, too, has gotten some attention from investigators, Lazu's lawyer Richard Brown said. No charges have come as a result, he said.Dale Diggs, the Kansas-based company's president, has said he did nothing improper.

But the whole situation still leaves Williams puzzled.Williams had been among the leaders in the city's African American community to advocate on Diggs' behalf in an effort to have a minority contractor head up the city's nascent school construction program. But after Diggs got the job in 2001, the relationship between Diggs and Williams soured, Williams said. Williams didn't think Diggs who is African American was doing enough to hire minority contractors, he said. He even told Diggs as much in front of the mayor, he said.

Diggs didn't like Williams because he "thought everybody who works for you should be black, and Dale doesn't agree with that," Jochens said. And Diggs doesn't recall a conversation with the mayor, she said.

Nevertheless, the once-warm relationship between Diggs and Williams grew cold.

So when Diggs showed up at Williams' hospital bedside as he was recovering from hip surgery four years ago, Williams didn't know what to think.

"He says, 'Let's work together here, I'm sure there's some things that we can work on,'" Williams said. "And I'm like, where is this coming from?"

"I was surprised as anybody that Dale showed up," Williams said. "Because, frankly, he wasn't really talking to me."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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