Former Connecticut budget official arrested, pleads not guilty to bribery and extortion charges

A former top official in Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont’s budget office has pleaded not guilty to extortion, bribery, conspiracy and false statement charges
Former Connecticut deputy budget director Kosta Diamantis walks out of federal court, Thursday, May 16, 2024, in Hartford, Conn. after pleading not guilty to 22 criminal criminal counts, including extortion and bribery in connection with allegedly demanding and receiving payments and benefits from construction contractors. (AP Photo/Susan Haigh)

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Former Connecticut deputy budget director Kosta Diamantis walks out of federal court, Thursday, May 16, 2024, in Hartford, Conn. after pleading not guilty to 22 criminal criminal counts, including extortion and bribery in connection with allegedly demanding and receiving payments and benefits from construction contractors. (AP Photo/Susan Haigh)

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — A former top official in Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont's budget office allegedly extorted private contractors into paying him thousands of dollars in bribes as he oversaw large blocks of state money for school construction projects, federal authorities said Thursday.

Konstantinos “Kosta” Diamantis, a former state representative and a lawyer, appeared in federal court in Hartford in the afternoon after being arrested hours earlier at his home. He pleaded not guilty to 22 charges, including extortion, bribery, conspiracy and false statement charges, and he was released on $500,000 bail. Diamantis has previously denied any wrongdoing.

U.S. Attorney Vanessa Roberts Avery and officials with the FBI and IRS allege Diamantis used his position as director of the state’s Office of School Construction Grants and Review to demand and ultimately receive thousands of dollars in bribes from contractors from 2018 to 2021. It was in exchange for helping the companies obtain and maintain contracts for work on multimillion-dollar, state-funded school construction projects, officials said.

Federal authorities on Thursday also announced that three executives with two private contractors — a masonry business and a construction management firm — pleaded guilty earlier in the week to conspiring to bribe Diamantis.

“Constructing and renovating schools is an important, and very expensive, endeavor for our state and municipalities, and corruption within a program that manages and funds them adds cost, seriously erodes trust in government, and raises questions about work quality and the potential harms to students and educators in the classroom,” Avery said in a statement.

Diamantis and his lawyer, Vincent Provenzano, declined to comment on the allegations while leaving the courthouse. Diamantis has previously said he expected to be cleared of any wrongdoing.

“We just got the indictment,” Provenzano said.

In the 35-page indictment released Thursday, federal investigators highlighted electronic messages to show Diamantis pressured contractors to provide him with money after helping them secure state contracts. After discussing school projects in one message with Salvatore Monarca and John Duffy, the president and vice president, respectively, of Acranom Masonry Inc. in Middlefield, Diamantis wrote that he expected a percentage of the total contract price.

“I am very good at what I do and always do what I say. Johnny knows,” he said of Duffy, who is his former brother-in-law. “And I usually work at 5 percent of total. Just FYI.”

Other messages show Diamantis telling Duffy that he needed money. At the time, his bank balance was negative $276.68, according to the indictment. After receiving a portion of the alleged “agreed-upon bribe,” Diamantis threatened to have Acranom fired from a school project in Tolland if he didn't receive the rest, saying "I'm no beggar and did my part."

Both Monarca and Duffy pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit extortion. Messages were left seeking comment at their office as well as with their lawyers. Duffy's lawyer, Don Cretella, declined to comment.

The indictment said Diamantis also obtained payments and a job for his daughter at an “inflated salary” from Antonietta Roy, owner of Construction Advocacy Professionals. The firm received a $70,000 consulting contract for a school project in Tolland about two months later. Roy has pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bribery. Her attorney, Craig Raabe, declined to comment.

Diamantis, of Farmington, a former deputy secretary of the Office of Policy and Management, resigned in October 2021 on the same day he was placed on paid administrative pending a misconduct investigation, according to a letter from the state's personnel office.

Lamont's office issued a statement saying the governor took steps in 2021 to remove Diamantis from his government jobs when “allegations of ethical improprieties surfaced.” Lamont, a Democrat, also ordered an independent review of the school construction grant program and several reforms were made.

“The governor has been clear that he has zero tolerance for malfeasance and corruption in government,” the statement said.

In March 2022, state officials received a federal grand jury subpoena seeking electronic communications dating to Jan. 1, 2018, involving Diamantis and the “planning, bidding, awarding and implementation” of school construction projects, upgrades at the state pier in New London, and hazardous material abatement projects.

Oversight of school construction grants was originally handled by the Department of Administrative Services before moving to the Office of Policy and Management when Diamantis moved from one agency to the next. It’s now handled by the Department of Administrative Services again.

According to an indictment unsealed Thursday, the alleged bribes and extortion were related to construction work at Weaver High School and Bulkeley High School in Hartford, Birch Grove Primary School in Tolland and school construction projects in New Britain.

Diamantis also is accused of making multiple false statements to FBI investigators, comprising the bulk of the charges.

Diamantis, a state representative for parts of Bristol from 1993 to 2005, submitted his retirement paperwork when he resigned. He is now earning a $72,514 a year from a state pension, according to state records.

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Associated Press Writers Dave Collins and Pat Eaton Robb contributed to this report.

Kosta Diamantis, former director of Connecticut's Office of School Construction Grants and Review, speaks at a news conference to announce plans to build a new Norwalk High School, at Norwalk High School, in Norwalk, Conn. Dec. 9, 2019. Diamantis, a former top official in Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont's budget office who played a key role in school construction grants and offshore wind projects was arrested Thursday morning on federal charges. (Ned Gerard/Hearst Connecticut Media)

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Former Connecticut deputy budget director Kosta Diamantis walks out of federal court, Thursday, May 16, 2024, in Hartford, Conn., after pleading not guilty to 22 criminal criminal counts, including extortion and bribery in connection with allegedly demanding and receiving payments and benefits from construction contractors. (Aaron Flaum/Hartford Courant via AP)

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Former Connecticut deputy budget director Kosta Diamantis dodges reporters as he walks out of federal court, Thursday, May 16, 2024, in Hartford, Conn., after pleading not guilty to 22 criminal criminal counts, including extortion and bribery in connection with allegedly demanding and receiving payments and benefits from construction contractors. (Aaron Flaum/Hartford Courant via AP)

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Former Connecticut deputy budget director Kosta Diamantis, left, and his lawyer Vincent Provenzano, walk out of federal court, Thursday, May 16, 2024, in Hartford, Conn., after pleading not guilty to 22 criminal criminal counts, including extortion and bribery in connection with allegedly demanding and receiving payments and benefits from construction contractors. (Aaron Flaum/Hartford Courant via AP)

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Former Connecticut deputy budget director Kosta Diamantis, right, and his lawyer Vincent Provenzano, walk out of federal court, Thursday, May 16, 2024, in Hartford, Conn., after pleading not guilty to 22 criminal criminal counts, including extortion and bribery in connection with allegedly demanding and receiving payments and benefits from construction contractors. (Aaron Flaum/Hartford Courant via AP)

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Former Connecticut deputy budget director Kosta Diamantis, left, and his lawyer Vincent Provenzano, walk out of federal court, Thursday, May 16, 2024, in Hartford, Conn., after pleading not guilty to 22 criminal criminal counts, including extortion and bribery in connection with allegedly demanding and receiving payments and benefits from construction contractors. (Aaron Flaum/Hartford Courant via AP)

Credit: AP

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Credit: AP