The man at the center of a federal investigation in Hartford speaks for the first time to the NBC Connecticut Troubleshooters' George Colli.
The name Earl O’Garro, Jr. has surfaced in federal subpoenas, state investigations, foreclosure filings and eviction notices.
But his side of the story of what led to a federal grand jury investigation has yet to be told.
After several phone conversations and one sit-down meeting, the 30-year-old Windsor native agreed to an on-camera interview. O’Garro made it clear his silence over the past month is not because he's been in hiding.
“It’s funny. No one knew who I was, and then no one saw me anymore,” he said with a laugh. “So no, I haven’t been hiding out. I’ve very much been here.”
The Wesleyan-educated president and CEO of Hybrid Insurance Group finds himself at the center of federal and state probes into how he became an insurance broker for the city and where nearly $670,000 worth of excess liability premiums ended up.
As O’Garro walked with us through Bushnell Park in downtown Hartford, he was willing to discuss some of the issues, but not all.
When asked where the money was, he answered, “Legally, I can’t respond, but I can say that the coverage is still in force with the city of Hartford.”
However, O’Garro admitted he knows where the money is and that he will be able to show federal or state investigators if he is ever asked.
According to a city Audit Committee review, the money in question traces back to July 18, when city Treasurer Adam Cloud received a call from O’Garro telling him two insurance payments were late and about to default. Instead of sending payment right to the account agent, which is standard procedure, Cloud wired almost $900,000 to the broker, Hybrid, after receiving verbal approval from the former finance director, Julio Molleda. Records show that Hybrid still hasn’t sent $670,000 of that to the insurer.
“They were late paying the premium which is why [invoices] came to us,” O’Garro said of the city of Hartford. “Now, is it customary, typically, that I would reach out to the retail agent and they would reach out, but I had a relationship where I felt I could at least make contact to let them know.”
The audit review also found there was an “appearance” of a conflict of interest for Cloud, although investigating it was out of the audit committee's authority.
According to the federal subpoenas obtained by the NBC Connecticut Troubleshooters, everyone from the Mayor’s Office to the City Council to the Board of Education has been asked to hand over all records and communications regarding Earl O’Garro and Hybrid Insurance Group.
However, there is one person the feds have yet to subpoena or speak with.
“By way of subpoena, they have not subpoenaed us. I have reached out to the federal government to let them know we’re here and ready to discuss the matter at any time,” said O’Garro.
Another question raised by the Audit Commission is that relationship between O’Garro and Treasurer Adam Cloud.
It started in Jan. 2012 when Hybrid moved from an office in Windsor to 30 Lewis Street in Hartford. That building is owned by members of the Cloud family.
At the end of Feb. 2012, Hybrid began working as an insurance broker for the city.
At the end of May, Hybrid hired Chris Cloud, the treasurer’s brother, as a lobbyist to find grants and generate business in and out of the state.
Cloud says he had nothing to do with Hybrid receiving the contract, adding the policy coverage was put out to bid for the first time in years. And it was another insurance company, Wentworth-DeAngelis, who won the bid and chose Hybrid as the cooperating broker.
As for how Hybrid ended up in a building owned by the Cloud family – O’Garro claims it was his realtor who contacted the listing agent when the office space became available. He said the two had met briefly only once before that.
“They’ve been very supportive,” said O’Garro, of the Clouds. “In all of this, it’s unfortunate what happened to them. And it’s unfortunate that they’ve been brought in the way that they have. It’s been very difficult.”
On advice by his attorney, O’Garro would not discuss the details of an 11-count state Insurance Department complaint against him. His hearing on that matter is scheduled for Nov. 21.
He also refused to discuss his pending divorce or the foreclosure of his Marlborough home, saying they are unconnected personal issues.
In addition, Hybrid has defaulted on a $100 thousand state loan. Now, the state is asking for most the money back.
And while more than $600,000 for the Hartford insurance premiums remains unaccounted for, O’Garro says he’s confident he’ll be vindicated when all the facts come out in the investigation.
“The reality of the situation is this: I think when you do business in a city like this and you do it well – this is what happens. I don’t think it’s in any shape, way or form a feather in my cap, but I understand that there are questions and that there’s a lot of things going on,” O'Garro said.
The eviction process for Hybrid at 30 Lewis Street began last week.
There are also two department of labor inquiries into why Hybrid employees and employees of a Middletown restaurant O’Garro owned with his wife have not getting paid. O'Garro says those two issues should be revolved and the employees will be getting their checks.