FBI probe Conn. House GOP, direct mail vendors

SUSAN HAIGH Associated Press Published:

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) -- Republican state lawmakers say they believe federal authorities are trying to determine whether any Connecticut House Republicans were pressured to use a particular company for their political campaign mailings.

Federal subpoenas released Friday show the FBI wants to see contracts and correspondence between the House Republicans and two direct mail companies, one in Florida and the other in Ohio, that have been used by the caucus members and the caucus' political action committees.

Rep. Dan Carter, R-Bethel, told The Associated Press he spoke with the FBI this week. He said he was asked why he switched from using the Ohio firm to the Florida company. Carter said he told investigators he made the switch because the first company raised its prices.

"Nobody ever pressured me in any shape or form that I should use one or the other," Carter said. "I've never felt either way I ever had to use one of those companies. They said that very clearly I'm not a person of interest in this investigation. They're just looking for information."

A grand jury issued the subpoenas Feb. 14 to the House Republican Office and two political action committees associated with the House GOP office, the House Republican Campaign Committee and the New Friends PAC. A subpoena for the same information was issued to the Office of Legislative Management, which operates the state Capitol complex.

Besides documents pertaining to Direct Mail Systems Inc. in Clearwater, Fla., King Strategic Communications in Columbus, Ohio, and any other direct mail companies, the subpoenas sought all correspondence, including text messages, emails, letters and memos between House Republican staff and the caucus' chief of staff, George D. Gallo, who issued his resignation on Thursday when news of the federal investigation was revealed. Authorities also want documents and correspondence regarding The Vinco Group LLC, a consulting firm with ties to Gallo, a former state GOP chairman.

Federal authorities are requesting documents dating back to Jan. 1, 2008.

House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero Jr., R-Norwalk, said Thursday that Gallo informed the caucus he is a "person of interest" in the FBI's investigation and decided to step down to avoid becoming a distraction during the legislative session. The FBI was at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford on Wednesday interviewing various Republican state representatives. The agency has declined to comment on its investigation.

Veteran state Rep. Arthur O'Neill, R-Southbury, said he hasn't spoken to the FBI but used Direct Mail Systems for his last re-election campaign. He said he learned about the company after asking some colleagues to recommend a firm to handle his mailings after a local company became no longer available. O'Neill said some House Republicans who spoke with the FBI told him they were asked why they chose Direct Mail Systems.

O'Neill, who has served in the House of Representatives since 1988, said he has never been pressured to use a particular company for his campaign mailings and could hire any company he wanted. He said the reason why so many Republicans have used Direct Mail Systems is because "they do good work," they provide a discount to the House GOP, and it is difficult to find a company that handles all the intricacies of a political mailing, including the production and distribution. O'Neill said the days of campaign volunteers of stuffing envelopes around a kitchen table for a legislative candidate are over.

"When you have one company, everything is coordinated inside that company," he said, adding how both Republicans and Democrats in Connecticut use a small number of companies.

O'Neill said he and his fellow Republicans have been surprised by federal the probe.

"I don't believe anybody who has been asked any questions did anything wrong," he said, adding how he also hasn't seen any evidence of Gallo of committing any wrongdoing.

"Nothing he has ever said or done would lead me to believe he had done anything wrong," O'Neill said. "This kind of came as a bolt out of the blue."

Messages were left seeking comment from Direct Mail Services, which does a big business with Republicans in Florida and various political organizations. Joe King, president of King Strategic Communications Inc., said his firm is working with investigators.

"While none of the issues raised involve our company, we understand that authorities often need incidental data to help them do their job. We will, of course, cooperate," he said, adding how his firm always operates "in a legal, ethical and above-board manner."

The probe comes nearly two years after federal investigators focused on illegal contributions to former Democratic House Speaker Christopher Donovan's congressional race. Prosecutors said roll-your-own tobacco shop owners wanted Donovan to kill state legislation that taxed their industry. Ultimately, eight people were convicted in the scheme. No charges were pursued against Donovan. The New Friends PAC played a role in the Donovan probe. It returned a contribution believed to have originated from the FBI as part of its investigation.

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Associated Press Writer John Christoffersen contributed to this story from New Haven, Conn.