- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 9, 2004

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — A close friend of Gov. John G. Rowland won a lucrative state loan the same year he was involved in a secretive real-estate deal that brought the governor a windfall, lawmakers weighing Mr. Rowland’s impeachment learned yesterday.

The legislative panel turned its attention to Robert Matthews, a wealthy friend of Mr. Rowland who won millions of dollars in state business and paid largely inflated rates to rent, and later purchase, the governor’s condominium using a front man.

Investigators told the panel that Mr. Matthews received a $5.4 million loan guarantee for one of his businesses in 1997, the same year he bought the condo from Mr. Rowland. In 1996, Mr. Matthews’ bid for a $6.8 million loan had been rejected.

“In my mind, now I have a lot of questions,” said state Rep. Arthur O’Neill, the committee’s Republican co-chairman.

Mr. Rowland, a three-term Republican, has faced growing calls for his resignation amid a corruption investigation that revealed that he accepted a hot tub and other renovations at his summer cottage from friends and state contractors.

He is the first governor in Connecticut history to face impeachment and is the subject of a federal criminal investigation. The committee has until June 30 to recommend to the full House whether Mr. Rowland should be impeached.

Andrew Melnick, senior investigator for a firm hired by the committee, testified that Mr. Rowland rented out the efficiency condo, which he purchased as a congressman, for $1,750 a month in the late 1990s to Kelly Matthews, niece of Mr. Matthews.

At that time, similar condos in the Capitol Hill building were renting for $500 to $625 a month, according to affidavits from owners with units on floors above and below Mr. Rowland’s old unit.

Mr. Rowland sold the condo in 1997 to an associate of Mr. Matthews for $68,500, more than double the sale price of a similar condo in the building. Investigators said Mr. Matthews fronted the money for the sale, and the straw buyer, antiques dealer Wayne Pratt, pleaded guilty to tax charges in connection with the purchase.

Mr. Matthews declined to testify before the committee, citing his constitutional rights against self-incrimination.

The governor, who is battling a subpoena that he testify before the legislative committee, said he would not comment on the hearings.

The Hartford Courant, citing unidentified sources, reported yesterday that Mr. Rowland’s chief of staff, Brian Mattiello, made quiet inquiries to his predecessor, Dean Pagani, about two weeks ago about logistical planning toward a possible resignation this month. Mr. Pagani declined to get involved, the newspaper said.

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