Thursday, August 21, 2014

State Commissioner's Cuba Trip Was Authorized On False Pretenses, Probe Concludes

State Commissioner's Cuba Trip Was Authorized On False Pretenses, Probe
Massachusetts Inspector General Says Connecticut Official Was
'Ineligible' For Trip Led By Ex-Trinity President Dobelle
9:34 p.m. EDT, August 20, 2014

State Workers' Compensation Commissioner Stephen B. Delaney and his wife
last year joined a delegation from Westfield State University on a trip
to Cuba in apparent violation of federal travel restrictions related to
U.S. economic sanctions, according to a Massachusetts inspector
general's report.

In March 2013, then-Westfield State President Evan S. Dobelle — who
resigned late last year amid scandal — led an "educational delegation"
that accompanied the school's baseball team to Cuba for exhibition games
against a Cuban squad.

But the "delegation" included family members and friends, such as the
Delaneys, who had "no affiliation to the University" — even though a
"travel affidavit" for each indicated that he or she was "a faculty
member, staff person or student," the July 31 investigative report by
Inspector General Glenn A. Cunha said.

"Dobelle's use of Westfield's name and status as an educational
institution to enable ineligible individuals to travel to Cuba exposed
the school to potential liability for violating federal restrictions,"
the report said, adding: "Individuals and corporations who violate the
economic sanctions regulations are subject to a variety of civil and
criminal penalties."

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Delaney, 63, of West Hartford — friends with Dobelle since the latter's
presidency of Trinity College in the 1990s — said in a telephone
interview Wednesday that he didn't recall saying anything to anyone in
the U.S. or Cuba, nor signing any document, claiming that he was
affiliated with Westfield State or on official business.

He said that for him and his wife, it was a pleasure trip and "nobody
asked me" at customs checks if he was affiliated with the school or why
he was there. "We were part of the group," he said.

"I wouldn't jeopardize my job as a state official" by making any
misrepresentation, said Delaney, who earns $150,000 as one of the
state's 16 workers' compensation commissioners. He has spent 18 years in
the quasi-judicial role, deciding contested cases involving workers'
claims for injury benefits.

Although Delaney was mentioned in a report that blasted Dobelle on a
wide range of issues, including lavish personal spending from university
accounts, the section on the Cuba trip is focused on false
justifications for the travel.

Delaney said that he paid the full expenses for himself and his wife,
including flights and ground travel, food and lodging — about $5,000 in
all. He said that he and his wife flew from Connecticut to Florida on a
Thursday, to Cuba on a Friday, and left the island the following Tuesday.

After Delaney was interviewed, Westfield State released travel affidavit
forms bearing signatures above the hand-printed names of Stephen and
Angela Delaney, and listing 11 authorized categories into which a person
is supposed to fit to travel to Cuba. The categories ranged from
"Government Official" to "Academic Institution" faculty, staff or
student. The first line of the affidavit says the signer should check
which category he or she fits into, but neither Delaney did so.

Stephen Delaney could not be reached later to comment on the affidavits.

The section of Cunha's report that covered the Cuba trip was listed as
one case in which "Dobelle engaged in improper and irresponsible conduct."

The report said that the night before the group flew from Miami to
Havana, Dobelle's executive assistant, Waleska Lugo-DeJesus, sent an
email to the travelers, including the Delaneys and others who had no
affiliation to the school, "instructing them how to answer certain
questions that customs officers in Cuba might ask."

"Specifically, she instructed them to say that they were an 'adjunct
faculty of art and/or philanthropy' and that they were from 'Westfield
State University, live in Massachusetts.'" One of the recipients
"responded indicating he was concerned because all of his paperwork
listed his address in California, not Massachusetts," Cunha's report said.

"Dobelle wrote back, 'Just say you live in California and help us with
our California program which we do have in [San Francisco] every May and
June at sfstate it's not a problem.[sic]," the report said. That email
recipient and his wife, from California, canceled their trip the next

Stephen Delaney said Wednesday that his understanding was that the
couple canceled because the man's wife had become ill.

Cunha's report named Delaney as one of the recipients of Lugo-DeJesus'
email, but Delaney denied ever seeing such a message. "I would have
remembered that," he said.

Delaney was long active in Democratic politics in Hartford before
Republican Gov. John G. Rowland nominated him and the legislature
approved him in 1996 as a compensation commissioner. He and Dobelle are
still participants, with other politically active figures with Hartford
roots, in a "fantasy baseball" league in which players "draft" major
leaguers and win or lose based on their teams' hitting and pitching

It was at the March 2012 preseason draft for that fantasy league, held
at the Elks Hall in downtown Hartford, that the idea of Delaney's going
to Cuba arose. During the two- or three-hour event, in which
participants took turns choosing players to fill their rosters, Dobelle
mentioned that Westfield State would be organizing a trip to Cuba the
following year, Delaney said.

"Man, I'd love to see Cuba," Delaney recalled saying, adding that
friends of his had been to the island.

"Well, I'll see what I can do," he said that Dobelle replied.

Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley filed suit earlier this
month against Dobelle, seeking to recover nearly $100,000 that she said
he ran up in unauthorized travel expenses and purchases. The suit says
those expenses included the Cuba trip.

Cunha's report can be found online at:

Source: State Commissioner's Cuba Trip Was Authorized On False
Pretenses, Probe Concludes - -,0,7230838.story

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