Panel Considers Rowland Aid to Pal

The legislative committee investigating Gov. John G. Rowland (search) is looking into whether the governor played any role in the award of millions of dollars in state development aid to a friend, a newspaper reported.

The Hartford Courant, citing sources it did not identify, reported in Wednesday editions that the House Select Committee of Inquiry is probing whether Rowland influenced the aid deals, one of which was made at a time when Robert Matthews (search), a businessman and state contractor, was allegedly arranging to buy Rowland's Washington, D.C., condominium at an inflated price.

Rowland faces both state ethics and criminal investigations after admitting last year that he accepted gifts from state contractors and employees. The legislative committee will decide whether to recommend Rowland's impeachment. The Republican governor has said he did nothing in excange for the gifts.

On Tuesday, Rowland responded angrily to questions about whether he has withheld information from investigators, maintaining he has cooperated with the panel by providing it with more than 60,000 pages of documents.

The committee's special counsel asked Rowland's attorneys on Monday why thank-you notes and a letter to a state contractor were not among the documents turned over by the governor.

The Courant said in its Wednesday report that investigators are questioning Rowland's role in the Connecticut Development Authority's (search) approval of two economic development deals for businesses owned by Matthews.

One deal had the state putting up $3.6 million to guarantee a $16 million commercial loan to Matthews. The state also gave a Matthews business a direct loan of $1.15 million.

The first deal was approved in January 1997, several months after Matthews arranged for his niece to lease Rowland's condo at a rent at least three times the market rate. The second was approved in June 1997 - the same month that antiques expert Wayne Pratt, allegedly acting as a frontman for Matthews, closed the deal for Rowland's condo.

Pratt, of Woodbury, pleaded guilty to a minor tax charge last week in connection with the condo sale. He admitted that he acted as Matthews' intermediary in buying the condo.

Rowland's lawyers said the governor did not do anything in return for Matthews.