- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 4, 2015

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) - Federal authorities in Connecticut announced a new task force Wednesday to investigate corruption by public officials, saying the problem remains persistent despite numerous prosecutions in the state.

The task force comprises officials from several federal agencies who have worked together in the past on prominent cases, including the corruption prosecutions of former Gov. John G. Rowland.

“This is a persistently present problem,” said Deirdre Daly, the U.S. attorney for Connecticut. “It’s somewhat discouraging and troubling because over the last decade plus there have been a number of high-profile public corruption prosecutions in Connecticut and yet corruption persists on a number of different levels.”

The large number of cases has earned the state the dubious nickname “Corrupticut,” with two corruption cases against Rowland putting the state in the national spotlight.

Rowland is awaiting sentencing after being convicted in September of hiding payments for work on the failed 2012 congressional campaign of Lisa Wilson-Foley that were made through a phony contract with her husband’s nursing home business. In 2004, Rowland resigned as governor amid another corruption scandal and served 10 months in prison or taking illegal gifts while in office.

Several other public officials also have gone to prison in federal corruption cases in the past two decades, including former state Treasurer Paul Silvester, former Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim and former Bridgeport state Sen. Ernest Newton II, who now is awaiting sentencing in another criminal case. Former Hartford Mayor Eddie Perez was convicted of state corruption charges in 2010, but the convictions were overturned and the case is now before the state Supreme Court.

The new task force, which has been operating for a few months, includes officials with the FBI, IRS, Postal Inspection Service and the departments of Health and Human Services and Housing and Urban Development. Daly said five officials with those agencies will work together at the FBI office in Meriden, in the first task force of its kind in the state.

“Public servants are entrusted by all of us to act in the best interests of the public they serve,” said Patricia Ferrick, the top FBI agent in Connecticut. “It is important for the United States to bring justice to those who betray that trust. Public corruption at all levels of local, state and federal government must not be tolerated.”

Officials also urged government employees to report corruption and said criminal acts can be reported anonymously to a hotline, 800-CALL-FBI, which is staffed by FBI agents 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

At the announcement on Wednesday, authorities handed out a long list of people tangled in public corruption prosecutions in Connecticut over the past year, including Rowland. Others include:

- Michael Siwek, former executive director of the West Haven Housing Authority, who is awaiting sentencing for taking about $1.5 million in bribes in exchange for awarding business and contracts.

- Michael Thomas, former chairman of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation. Thomas was sentenced to 18 months in prison last year for using a tribal government credit card to charge over $100,000 in person expenses.

- Robert Giulietti, a former official with the Postal Service who was sentenced to more than three years in prison for a kickback scheme involving contracts that overcharged for services and caused nearly $1 million in losses to the Postal Service.

- David Bertnagel, the former finance director for the town of Plymouth, who is charged with embezzling more than $800,000 from the town from 2011 to last October. A message seeking comment was left with Bertnagel’s lawyer Wednesday.

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