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Details emerging about designer suits, expensive New York stay for Rowland

HARTFORD -- Governor John G. Rowland, already under fire for receiving gifts such as a hot tub and Cuban cigars, also accepted designer clothes bought by friends and state employees at a posh clothier, his lawyer acknowledged yesterday.

The disclosure of the latest lavish gifts for Rowland came a day after a legislative committee considering whether to recommend Rowland's impeachment issued a subpoena for documents to The Stackpole, Moore & Tryon Co., an upscale men's clothing shop that has been an institution in Hartford for nearly a century.

The committee is seeking any documents related to "accounts for or on behalf of Gov. John G. Rowland," including charges or payments to accounts, and documents that indicate the source of those payments.

William F. Dow III, Rowland's attorney, estimated the governor spent $2,500 to $3,000 at the store in recent years, mostly for suits. "A significant portion of it was paid with gift certificates from friends and staff," Dow told the Associated Press. "The governor bought a limited amount of clothing from Stackpole, Moore & Tryon, much of it on sale."

Dow would not disclose further details, including the exact amount and identity of those providing the gifts. He said no state contractors provided the gift certificates. "These are friends," Dow said. "In an office context, it is very common for an employer and employee to share gifts."

But state Representative Michael Lawlor, a member of the House Select Committee of Inquiry, disagreed. "If it turns out contractors and employees are buying expensive suits for the governor, it's potentially another bribe," said Lawlor, an East Haven democrat. "Common sense tells you it is virtually unheard of people get gift certificates of this nature and in this quantity."

Lawlor noted that Joseph Ganim, the former Bridgeport mayor who was convicted last year of federal corruption charges, had received designer clothes from friends doing business with the city.

Jo McKenzie, a confidante of Rowland's, spent a few thousand dollars over several years for shirts, ties, and suits as gifts to Rowland at Christmas and other occasions, her lawyer told the Associated Press.

McKenzie, who oversees the governor's mansion in Hartford and is executive director of a private foundation associated with the governor's official residence, was acting as a friend of the governor and first lady Patty Rowland, said her lawyer, Austin McGuigan. "She's like a mother to this family," he said. "There was nothing inappropriate. She considers John and Patty Rowland to be like family."

Stackpole, Moore & Tryon's is an institution in Hartford, opening its doors in 1909. It has drawn some prominent business leaders and politicians to its racks lined with top-of-the-line clothing.

Rowland's scheduler, Christine Corey, who gave him a hot tub, also gave him a gift certificate of about $250 for the clothing store a few years ago at Christmas, said Richard Brown, her attorney.

Rowland's legal team has claimed Connecticut law allows the governor to accept expensive gifts from employees. However, Alan Plofsky, executive director of the State Ethics Commission, has determined that gifts to a public official from a subordinate, political appointee, or constituent should not exceed more than $100 per year, per recipient.

Ross Garber, the governor's legal counsel, has asked the commission to issue a declaratory ruling on the gift provision, a more formal ruling than the commission's standard advisory opinion, which would allow the governor to challenge it in court. The commission has not decided whether to issue such a ruling.

The ethics commission has also held off on an investigation into gifts to the governor at the request of the US Attorney's office. Federal investigators have been looking into Rowland's dealings with state contractors, and state legislators have begun an impeachment inquiry. The Republican governor has acknowledged receiving gifts from employees and contractors but has denied doing anything in return.

The legislative impeachment committee's legal counsel, Steven Reich, also called on Rowland to produce all billing records from a November 1998 trip to New York City. Rowland stayed at the Carlyle Hotel during the weekend following his landslide victory against former congresswoman Barbara Kennelly.

"The committee is attempting to determine whether the trip and, more specifically, the manner in which it was paid for, present issues relevant to the committee's inquiry," Reich wrote in a letter to Garber.

Stanley Twardy, an attorney for Ultimate Travel, which made arrangements for the trip, said Rowland never paid the $1,797 bill for a two-night stay at the hotel. It was originally billed to Rowland's campaign committee but they refused to pay it, and said Rowland should foot the bill.

Asked if he paid for Carlyle hotel stay, Rowland said yesterday: "I don't know all the details of that particular stay. We're turned over probably 200,000 pages of documentation, so I've turned over all my bills, my telephone records, I've turned over all of my checks. I haven't gone back to look at 1998 as to who paid for that particular trip or not."

Rowland said he does recall being at the hotel, where standard rooms currently rent for $500 a night. A two-bedroom suite rents for $1,600 to $3,825 a night.

Meanwhile, Rowland, acknowledging that the scandals plaguing his administration could overshadow celebrations tomorrow for the victories by the University of Connecticut basketball teams, is skipping the Hartford event. His spokesman said yesterday that the governor, who faces an impeachment investigation, doesn't want his troubles to press in on the rally for the historic matching NCAA titles.

Lieutenant Governor M. Jodi Rell will instead lead off the event on the steps of the Capitol. The rally will follow a victory parade through the streets of Hartford.

"He's just decided the focus should be on the teams. He'd rather not attend this year because he wants it to be a completely positive event," said Dean Pagani.

"This is a great accomplishment for UConn and both teams. Rather than take any risk of creating a situation that is less than positive, he decided it was better not to attend."

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