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Auditors Review “Plate-gate” Complaint

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PLATEGATE

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By SUSAN HAIGH, Associated Press

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ The state’s Auditors of Public Accounts are reviewing a whistleblower complaint about a top aide to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy who released federally and state-protected license plate numbers to a columnist.

Robert Ward, the Republican auditor, confirmed that he and the Democratic auditor received a complaint this week that was referred to them by Attorney General George Jepsen. The auditors and Jepsen cannot reveal the name of the complainant for confidentiality reasons, but Republican State Chairman Chris Healy has sent letters to the U.S. attorney, chief state’s attorney and the attorney general seeking investigations.

The senior Malloy adviser, Roy Occhiogrosso, has said he didn’t realize the dozens of low-numbered license plate registrations _ recently obtained by former Gov. M. Jodi Rell and her supporters _ that he passed along to Hartford

Courant columnist and blogger Kevin Rennie were not public information.

A review of e-mails, requested by The Associated Press under the state’s Freedom of Information law, show Malloy Chief of Staff Timothy Bannon discussed the list of low-numbered plates with the new Department of Motor Vehicles commissioner, Melody Currey. Bannon then passed them along to Occhiogrosso.

There is no mention in the emails about the registration numbers being protected from public release by state and federal privacy laws. Violators of the state law can face a misdemeanor, and violators of the federal law can face civil liabilities. Both Bannon and Occhiogrosso have said they did not know the information was protected. Malloy’s legal counsel is reviewing DMV and FOI laws to determine if any laws were broken.

Requests to interview Currey were declined.

When asked if the commissioner or anyone from DMV warned Bannon not to distribute the information publicly, DMV spokesman William Seymour issued the following statement: “We are doing everything we can to put this issue behind us. We have nothing more to add.”

Bannon confirmed Thursday night that DMV has sent a letter on his behalf to those motorists whose plate numbers were provided to the columnist. Bannon said he originally presumed the information was public but has since learned of another statute “which arguably would require that such information not be released to third parties.”

“Since there are potential inconsistencies between these two statutes, Governor Malloy has directed me to contact you to determine whether the release of this information has in any way proven burdensome for you, or if the release raises any other concerns for you. If so, the governor has authorized a refund and the issuance of a new plate,” he wrote.
Bannon wrote that he and Occhiogrosso “regret any inconvenience you may have experienced because of these actions” and they appreciate their understanding in the matter.
Healy said Friday that the promise of issuing a refund and a new plate misses the point.

“These folks should be furious that their names and addresses and plate numbers were so freely distributed when it’s against the law,” he said. Healy said the administration should “just get up and say, ‘We broke the law, we won’t do it again, we’ve got better things to do.”’

Healy has accused the Malloy aides of “playing silly high school games” by helping to publicize how Rell’s former chief of staff, Lisa Moody, sought the low-numbered plates during the final weeks of the administration.

State law allows the DMV commissioner, in consultation with the governor, to distribute one-, two- and three-digit plates. The recipients still have to pay the state DMV registration fees. The plates, which stand out from standard issued tags because of the low numbers, are coveted by some in political circles.

Ward was DMV commissioner when Moody requested the plates and was issued one. Ward said he has yet to decide whether to recuse himself from the auditors’ investigation into the whistleblower complaint.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

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