By STEPHEN SINGER, AP Business Writer
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and his top officials struggled with state assistance to online ticket exchange TicketNetwork Inc., beginning with questions about economic development policy and ending with the arrest of the company’s chief executive on charges of a hate crime and breach of peace.
Officials discussed how best to explain why millions in economic development aid were going to a Connecticut company when it could be used to attract an out-of-state business, according to emails obtained in a Freedom of Information request by The Associated Press.
Seven months later, Malloy administration officials emailed among themselves about how to respond to the company’s withdrawal from the governor’s signature economic development program after Chief Executive Don
Vaccaro was arrested at an Oscar party in Hartford. Vaccaro, who police said was drunk and hurled a racial insult at a bouncer, later took an indefinite leave of absence from the company.
In a Feb. 29 email, Economic Development Commissioner Catherine Smith sought guidance from Andrew Doba, a spokesman for Malloy, and a spokesman for the state development agency about what to say publicly about TicketNetwork’s decision to pull out from Malloy’s First Five economic development program.
“I trust our response is that we respect their decision and welcome their continued growth in the state. Right?” she asked.
Doba asked the commissioner to handle the announcement of TicketNetwork’s decision to withdraw from the program and advised her to tell reporters the scandal was a one-time problem in a system that otherwise worked well.
“We have solid process in place for vetting companies that take part in First Five and other economic development programs,” Doba said. “No process is perfect.”
Smith publicly pledged that officials would do a better job researching privately owned companies and their executives seeking state aid.
Following Vaccaro’s arrest, an aide viewed a July 2011 video of Malloy and Vaccaro announcing the economic development package to make sure the governor wasn’t linked to the disgraced company executive.
“I didn’t see anything notable, other than (Malloy) thanking Vaccaro for his leadership,” spokesman David Bednarz said in an email to Malloy’s senior adviser Roy Occhiogrosso and others on the governor’s communications staff.
The emails are incomplete. Anthony Janotta, Malloy’s legal counsel, said officials withheld correspondence to protect lawyer-client confidentiality and documents discussing strategy and negotiations related to pending claims.
A TicketNetwork spokesman said the company wouldn’t comment on the emails or on Vaccaro.
Malloy’s marquee First Five program was established last year to consolidate state tax credits to draw the first five businesses investing $25 million in Connecticut and creating 200 jobs over five years. TicketNetwork was the second company to win incentives in exchange for keeping 292 jobs, creating at least 200 full-time jobs in two years and possibly up to 600 over the next 10 years.
The state pledged up to $7.75 million in loans and grants.
In July 2011, Malloy’s advisers suggested how to explain why the state was helping TicketNetwork, which moved from Vernon to South Windsor, rather than attracting an out-of-state business.
“It’s important to point out that while South Windsor and Vernon were fighting over Ticket Network –in addition to other Connecticut cities– they also received offers from Massachusetts and New York,” Malloy’s communication staff wrote to the governor.
Vaccaro said when the loan and grant package was announced that TicketNetwork was solicited by other states.
Within hours of media reports of his arrest, emails with a subject line of “urgent” were exchanged between Smith and officials in the governor’s office, trying to confirm that “this is the TicketNetwork guy.”
Doba told top administration officials that the communications staff members were telling reporters that the allegations, if true, were “reprehensible” and that Vaccaro “should be ashamed of himself.”
Hours later, Malloy’s chief of staff, Mark Ojakian, said in an email to the communications staff and Occhiogrosso that Malloy’s general counsel Andrew McDonald and economic development officials were looking at the state’s agreement with TicketNetwork “and our options if we need to exercise them.”
The next day, Feb. 28, Malloy said the state was examining the state’s loan deal with the company, calling Vaccaro’s behavior boorish. Vaccaro soon announced a leave of absence.
The following day, TicketNetwork withdrew from the First Five program.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)