Would-be Hartford stadium builder has felony embezzlement record, local pol says “We’ve all made mistakes”

Happy Wednesday! And what do the papers have to bring us today?

A Somers businessman pitching a multimillion-dollar deal to bring professional soccer to Hartford has a felony conviction for embezzlement and has faced a string of legal judgments in at least four states for failing to pay personal and professional debts, a Courant investigation has found.

So many questions here. Among them: This guy thinks he can build a 15,000-seat soccer stadium in Hartford for $40 million? Also: With a track record like that, shouldn’t he really be looking to buy a team in the NHL?

But let’s stick with the question that the Hartford Courant provides more answers to, which is “How does one guy end up being charged with ducking so many debts?” To hear Hartford City FC CEO James Duckett tell it, it was all just a series of misunderstandings: He didn’t mean to charge Oracle $200,000 for temp work that was never actually done, or ducking out on an $84,000 debt to M&T Bank, or getting sued for $8,200 in 2010 over something that “might have been a long time ago. I don’t remember.” Or the “incident in which three of Duckett’s dogs attempted to break through the door to [his neighbor]’s home and attack his dog.” In fact, says Duckett, all of this makes him a more reliable candidate to get a 49-year lease on city land for a soccer stadium:

“Those are the things that … we grow from and that’s made me the tough exterior that I am today,” Duckett said. “Certain people, we have stories. Those stories aren’t complete until you go through some rough things.”

And what do Hartford city officials — who wouldn’t be putting up public money under Duckett’s plan, but would be entering into that long-term lease in exchange for either $500,000 a year in rent or 10% of team revenues — think of these revelations?

City Councilman Kenneth Kennedy, who has led the effort to redevelop Dillon Stadium on the city side, said Tuesday that he was not aware of Duckett’s embezzlement conviction, and said it “does make you rethink some things.” But he said private money was financing the new stadium, and that if Duckett’s partners had confidence in him, “I think that’s enough for the city.

“We should remember the city has minimal risk here. I don’t see anybody else on the horizon who could bring these kind of dollars to get this thing done,” Kennedy said. “It was 16 years ago. I don’t want selective forgiveness. I think all people should be given another chance. We’ve all made mistakes. I certainly have made my share. A lot has changed in 16 years and I think James should be given the benefit of the doubt.”

Actually, there are probably lots of people willing to promise to bring dollars to the table if you don’t rule out those who have a track record of not actually paying. But then, this is apparently where the rich are different from you and me. I really need to make some business cards that say “Field of Schemes CEO.”

6 comments on “Would-be Hartford stadium builder has felony embezzlement record, local pol says “We’ve all made mistakes”

  1. Steal a few thousand dollars with a gun, you couldn’t get a job as a janitor in Hartford. Steal a few hundred thousand dollars with a briefcase and they’ll happily hand you over the keys to the treasury.

  2. If it’s a private stadium with a privately own team, why does Hartford need to sign a lease? Is the city going to rent it for youth soccer?

  3. Meanwhile, people who dealt small quantities of drugs can’t get jobs or housing. But hey lesson learned. Drugs are bad but embezzlement is good kids, m’kay?