HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — There are at least 35 instances where Connecticut Department of Correction employees potentially misused a COVID-19 program that provided workers with hotel rooms during the height of the pandemic, including a staffer who booked a room to attend a wedding, according to continuing state investigations.
So far, 14 of the 35 investigations have been closed, DOC confirmed Tuesday, and $40,787 has been returned to the state. DOC said about $104,000 is still owed. All employees under investigation were allowed to reimburse the state. Some have faced additional discipline, including a five-day suspension for several individuals.
“As the investigation is still ongoing, and several of the incidents have yet to be resolved, keep in mind that nearly all those involved have protections and protocols afforded to them through their collective bargaining agreements,” according to a statement from DOC. The Connecticut Mirror first reported investigations into the federally funded Temporary Emergency Lodging Program by the DOC, the agency that runs Connecticut's prisons, and the state's Auditors of Public Accounts.
DOC said 1,591 staff used the program, isolating in hotel rooms to keep their loved ones safe during the height of the pandemic. The agency noted the 35 instances of possible misuse represent 2.2% of the people who availed themselves of the program.
Documents provided by the auditors show there were cases where workers used the program while on military leave, receiving workers' compensation benefits and on family medical leave. A spreadsheet provided by the auditors says it appears one employee “booked the hotel room to attend a wedding in 2 cases or the employee rented out the room to a friend in another case," resulting in a “known questionable cost of $554.25,” which has since been recovered. Another person, the document said, used the hotel program after she had resigned.
In some cases, workers had guests with them in the rooms, despite the program's intention to help prevent family members from contracting COVID-19. There was one case where a staff member was smoking marijuana in the room and had her son with her, according to the spreadsheet. Another worker stayed in a hotel for six months with his family and dog.
Records show the investigations also determined some of the questionable charges were due to billing mistakes made by the hotels.