The Glastonbury businessman on the state’s short list of suppliers for N95 masks and at-home COVID tests once admitted to misappropriating more than $1.8 million from his company’s pension fund and then failed to pay off the fine for 12 years, according to federal court records and tax liens.
State officials said Friday they were aware of the federal investigation into the pension fund of Jeffrey Barlow’s former company when they signed an $18 million purchase order last month with his company, Jack Rubenstein CT LLC, to procure desperately needed at-home COVID tests as the omicron variant began its surge in Connecticut.
Barlow never produced the tests, however, leaving Gov. Ned Lamont and other top officials scrambling for another solution.
This was the second time the state did business with Barlow. The first time was early in the pandemic, when Barlow used his connections as an importer of cell phone parts and toy cars to procure N95 masks from China.
Barlow has no criminal history, but federal court records and tax liens filed in Glastonbury show that he had been investigated by the IRS and the FBI in New Haven from 2007 until 2019.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Administrative Services, which certified Barlow’s company as a state vendor in March 2020, acknowledged the agency did not conduct a background check on Barlow or his company at the time because the state was in the throes of a public health emergency, and state officials were scouring the globe for personal protective equipment as COVID deaths, particularly in nursing homes, started to multiply.
“The procurement team does basic research on contractors even when we procure quickly,” said Lora Rae Anderson, DAS spokeswoman. “This information regarding his offense from 2007 was known. It did not pose a risk to public health and safety, nor taxpayer dollars, as no payment would be disbursed without receiving the product. Ensuring our residents have access to tools to stop the spread of a deadly virus remains our highest priority.”
Anderson said state law doesn’t require the agency to do background checks on brokers that were used during the pandemic.
“We are not required to complete background checks on those we enter into purchase orders with in order to procure tests and PPE,” Anderson said. “The State provides a wide variety of products and services, and this is a policy discussion we would be happy to have understanding that every field is different.”
There is no evidence that Barlow did anything fraudulent in trying to procure the at-home tests. Lamont and other state officials have only said that “misrepresentations were made” to state officials.
“We understand he believed he could get tests and was unable to get them by the promised date, as many have suffered supply chain issues during this time,” Anderson said. “We don’t have full visibility to where the tests went, but regardless, no taxpayer funds were lost, and we were able to pivot to another supplier who started delivering tests two days later than planned.”
When it came time to look for at-home testing kits, DAS didn’t send out a …….