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Merrick Alpert was hired in 2010 to help move gun maker Colt out of state

By David Collins

Publication: The Day

Published May 01. 2013 4:00AM

What a difference three years can make, in the world of Connecticut guns.

In the spring of 2010, Merrick Alpert, a political nobody from Mystic, was challenging then Attorney General Richard Blumenthal for the Democratic nomination to run for Chris Dodd's U.S. Senate seat.

Today, Blumenthal is one of the two Connecticut senators in the front guard of efforts to reform the nation's gun laws, the most recent unsuccessful effort in the Senate notwithstanding.

Alpert, meanwhile, is busy trying to collect almost a million dollars in severance from Colt Manufacturing, the West Hartford-based gun company he signed on with after his failed Senate bid.

It is an interesting footnote to Connecticut's 2010 Senate race that the Democrat who won the seat went on to take a leading role in gun law reform. The other Democrat in the race went on to greedily try to extract money from the gun industry.

But one of the newsiest bombshells in a Superior Court lawsuit Alpert filed recently is that Colt, the storied Connecticut gunmaker that was founded here in 1836 by Samuel Colt, was considering moving from its Connecticut headquarters as long ago as 2010.

Alpert, according to a contract he filed as part of his lawsuit, was hired as a consultant by Colt in the fall of 2010 to organize moving Colt's "headquarters and manufacturing from West Hartford to one or more locations elsewhere in the U.S." and to help identify and select a "host state."

That Colt was looking for new host state back in 2010 might come as a surprise to those who read recent remarks and comments from Dennis Veilleux, the president of Colt Manufacturing, suggesting Connecticut's adoption of tougher gun laws this year could make the company consider moving on.

"Someday soon I will again be asked why we fight to keep well-paying manufacturing jobs in Connecticut," Veilleux wrote in March, in an op-ed article in the Hartford Courant. "I will be asked why we should continue to manufacture in a state where the governor would make ownership of our product a felony.

"I will be asked these questions and, unlike in the past, there will be few good answers."

You wonder, who was asking those questions in 2010, long before the Connecticut gun reform laws of 2013, when Colt hired Alpert to help them find a place to move to.

Other disclosures in Alpert's lawsuit are interesting and provocative, but not especially surprising.

Alpert says, for instance, that the former head of Colt, William Keys, a retired lieutenant general in the Marines, uses a lot of unprintable words, is a misogynist and sexist. Sad maybe, if true, but I can't say they are especially shocking allegations.

Alpert's lawsuit also suggests that Keys and two principal investors in Colt were accusing each other of stealing from company coffers and ready to blackmail one another. He also alleges Keys was ready to have one of the principal investors, a green card holder, investigated and deported. Keys called the investor an "economic terrorist," according to the lawsuit.

Another section of the lawsuit raises troubling suggestions about problems with Colt guns, saying there had been "catastrophic failures" of Colt defense rifles that the company did not disclose.

But mostly Alpert appears less concerned, in pursuing the lawsuit, about cleaning up Colt than about collecting some $900,000 in severance, interest, legal fees and punitive damages.

You get the impression that he would have been happy to live with the alleged sexism, thievery, blackmail and exploding guns if he had just gotten his cut of the money.

Alpert's claim for severance involves a complicated tale of secret employment contracts and corporate infighting that harkens to medieval palace intrigue.

Of course the company, which had Alpert led from the premises in the fall of 2012, under armed guard, accusing him of fraud, has denied the allegations and seems to be aggressively defending itself in the lawsuit.

I'm not sure how solid Alpert's legal claim for back pay, severance and punitive damages might be. To a layman, it seems like a lot of severance to demand from a company where you only worked two years.

But I do think the lawsuit certainly proves that Connecticut Democrats made the right choice in 2010.

And everyone in Connecticut should ignore the next set of gun executives who start whining about leaving the state. Let them go.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

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