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Land deal in New Bedford called sham

NEW BEDFORD -- A state investigation into how Home Depot Inc. was awarded city-owned land has concluded the deal was fixed so a former city solicitor could broker the development.

''I find overwhelming evidence that this procurement was a sham process designed to reward a faithful political ally of the previous administration, and not to serve the best interests of the city of New Bedford," Inspector General Gregory W. Sullivan wrote in a report released yesterday. The Standard-Times of New Bedford reported the findings yesterday.

The current mayor, Scott W. Lang, had asked the inspector general to investigate the Home Depot deal last fall.

The IG concluded that the administration of former mayor Frederick Kalisz was responsible for swinging the deal to former city solicitor George Leontire's company. Leontire, a childhood friend and political adviser to Kalisz, was city solicitor from 1998 to 2002.

Whelan Associates, a Dartmouth real estate company in which Leontire is a partner, was set to be paid $500,000 for brokering the Home Depot deal.

Sullivan has not indicated whether he will refer the case to the state attorney general's office for possible prosecution.

''There are some serious allegations raised in the inspector general's report," a spokeswoman for Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly said yesterday. ''As with all reports of this nature from the IG, we will review it carefully to determine whether any further action is appropriate by this office."

Leontire told the Standard-Times that one problem with the inspector general's characterization is the perception that the Fairhaven Mills parcel was extremely valuable before he and Whelan Associates put together this deal.

''It's being spun as if this was some extraordinarily valuable piece of land that was being provided for me. I think it was me and my company that brought value to that project, and not the other way around."

Leontire also said that the $500,000 was intended for a scholarship fund for New Bedford public school students.

Kalisz, the former mayor, told the newspaper he had not seen the IG's report, but he said, ''I have the utmost confidence in Matt's integrity, and the job he did for me."

Home Depot now will not obtain the property under the Kalisz administration's arrangement, but the company could apply again, the current mayor said.

Home Depot said in a statement it is reviewing the inspector general's report.

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