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Hartford Councilwoman Says She Saw No Conflict In Hiring Client As Assistant


December 12, 2012

HARTFORD Councilwoman Cynthia Jennings said she saw no conflict in hiring as her executive assistant a man she was also representing in a federal lawsuit against several state officials.

The assistant, Eric Patton, whose nomination was approved Monday night by the council, withdrew from the job Wednesday.

Jennings said Wednesday that she hadn't told her council colleagues that she was representing Patton in the federal case because she didn't think there was a problem.

"I didn't think it was an issue because I'm not suing the city of Hartford," she said. "I didn't believe there was a conflict of interest there."

Patton's lawsuit, filed at U.S. District Court in October, names as defendants Chief State's Attorney Kevin Kane, Hartford State's Attorney Gail Hardy, Senior Assistant State's Attorney Vicki Melchiorre, the State's Office of Adult Probation, Probation Officer Heather Cato, among others, and David and Mildred Weinstein, a West Hartford couple for whom Patton did odd jobs.

The lawsuit says that state authorities "fraudulently charged" Patton with larceny, based on "fraudulent and forged documents" submitted to the West Hartford Police Department and the state's attorney's office.

Prosectuors alleged that Patton defrauded the Weinsteins of $150,000 over several years to support a drug habit. He was arrested in February 2006.

Patton worked for the Weinsteins from 1996 to 2006, according to court documents. The lawsuit says that the Weinsteins paid him $20 or $30 a day for 12- or 14-hour days of work on their property, and that the Weinsteins also used Patton's wages as security for any cash advances they made to him.

In 2007, Patton was convicted of second-degree larceny and given a suspended sentence of six years in prison, meaning that he was released after the time he had already served in jail while waiting for his case to be resolved.

"The plaintiff recently became aware of his right to file a claim for injuries against the defendants for their illegal actions relative to human trafficking and slavery in the form of being used as a 'bonded debtor,'" the federal lawsuit says.

Mildred Weinstein, reached by phone Wednesday, declined to comment, saying that she had not seen the lawsuit. She said that her husband, David Weinstein, had died.

Kane's office has been involved in some city initiatives, including the Hartford Shooting Task Force, which includes members of the Hartford Police Department and inspectors from the chief state's attorney's office.

City Council President Shawn Wooden said Wednesday that the council wasn't aware of any conflict of interest prior to the appointment, but that the matter was "a moot point" because Patton had backed out of the job.

A city ordinance states that each council member may appoint his or her own executive assistant.

Jennings said she hadn't notified the corporation counsel's office about her representation of Patton, or sought a formal opinion on the matter.

In a written statement, Saundra Kee Borges, the city's corporation counsel and interim chief operating officer, said Wednesday: "[The] COO's office is now aware of this issue. It is a city council matter."

Patton was charged in 2011 with violating his probation, according to court records. He was sentenced to 25 months of special parole and served some time in jail while awaiting the disposition of the case. It was unclear Wednesday how much time Patton had spent in jail.

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.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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