Insurer’s Payment to Gov. Rowland’s Wife Questioned

May 7, 2004

Gov. John G. Rowland’s wife was paid $15,000 last year by an insurance company that had received a $16 million state contract.

W.R. Berkley Corp. of Greenwich paid Patricia Rowland a fee for a speech, along with round-trip air travel, meals and accommodations for four nights at the exclusive Ocean Reef Club resort in Key Largo, Fla., for her and the governor.

The company’s payments to the first lady were first disclosed this week in the governor’s mandatory annual financial disclosure to the ethics commission. The disclosure, reported Wednesday by The New York Times and The Hartford Courant, came a week after a legislative committee weighing whether to recommend Rowland’s impeachment pressed Rowland for more detailed financial records.

A lawyer for Mrs. Rowland, Robert M. Casale, said she had been paid a $15,000 honorarium for a speech she delivered at the conference and for her participation in conference workshops.

The ethics commission requires public officials and their spouses to list the sources of all income of more than $1,000 on the statements.

Berkley’s chairman and chief executive officer, William R. Berkley, is a longtime member of the University of Connecticut Board of Trustees, most recently reappointed by Rowland in 1999. Berkley and his wife contributed $7,500 to Rowland’s 1998 and 2002 campaigns.

W.R. Berkley was awarded a state contract to administer workers’ compensation claims from Oct. 1, 1997, to Dec. 31 2001, according to a spokesman for the State Department of Administrative Services.

The governor was invited to a conference held by W.R. Berkley in Florida from Jan. 23 to Jan. 27, according to a Feb. 6, 2003, letter from his legal counsel, Ross H. Garber, to Alan Plofsky, the executive director of the State Ethics Commission. The letter says the company’s “top producers” attended the conference, and Rowland was invited in his official capacity to speak on “issues related to state government, including insurance, the state budget, and general business matters.”

But a source familiar with the event said the governor did not formally participate in the conference and was there only as the spouse of the speaker.

Rowland, in a letter to Plofsky on Wednesday, said he addressed the audience and did a question and answer session after his wife’s speech. He also said he attended the conference from Jan. 23 to Jan. 26, not until Jan. 27 as Garber had indicated.

Rowland’s letter was in response to a letter from Plofsky to Garber requesting details of the governor’s participation in the conference and the dates he was there. Plofsky noted media reports saying Rowland did not take part in the conference.

W.R. Berkley, which listed revenue of $3.6 billion for 2003, paid for his flight and lodging for the nights of Jan. 23 to Jan. 26, and meals served as part of the conference. Garber and Rowland’s letters did not indicate the total of the governor’s expenses.

Under the state’s code of ethics, the hosting company is allowed to cover such payments for a public figure attending in an official capacity for the night before, the day of and the day after an event.

Garber declined to comment on the financial disclosure form.

Chris Cooper, the governor’s spokesman, also declined to comment.

The law allowing the collection of “necessary expenses” for attending conferences also bans speaking fees for public officials. Other state ethics provisions forbid members of a public official’s family from benefiting financially by virtue of their relationship with the official.

Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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