Kip Lynch ’22
Trinity College alumnus and former trustee David Wagner ’84, P’14, ’16 recently plead guilty to securities and wire fraud charges according to the Hartford Business Journal. A former venture capitalist, Wagner and his corporate deputy Marc Lawrence raised $8 million from private investors and the Connecticut state government for a proposed medical technology hub in a “Ponzi-like” scheme while diverting funds to pay for their own expenses as well as earlier employee-investors. Wagner was previously the chairman and managing partner of the now-defunct Downing Partners.
The Tripod has learned that Trinity College was financially associated with the Hartford MedTech Innovation District, of which Wagner’s CliniFlow purportedly aimed to raise funds to support. A document summarizing the various Hartford/East Hartford Innovation Places Projects, which includes the Hartford MedTech Innovation District, indicates that President of the College Joanne Berger-Sweeney and Chief Executive Officer of Hartford HealthCare Jeffrey Flaks were “both fully invested and have committed significant in-kind staff support, facilities and land resources, and direct financial support to the initiative.” The document further indicates that Trinity College either contributed or planned to contribute $300,000 over three years to the venture.
The Tripod spoke to Chief of Staff and Assistant Vice President for External Affairs Jason Rojas about Trinity’s participation in the project. Rojas noted that “Individuals from the college have been involved in various aspects of this initiative. I represented the college on the planning team who developed this proposal in response to a call for proposals from CT Innovations…I continue to represent the college on the Board of Directors of Launch In Hartford which is overseeing all of the initiatives associated with this program.”
Rojas also indicated that Trinity “contributed $75,000 to [sic] towards a total cash match of approximately 600k. Our partners in this cash match were the University of Connecticut and Hartford HealthCare. We in turn received funds to support an innovation fellow position to support the launch of our innovation center downtown.”
He clarified that Trinity had not lost any money related to Wagner’s project and that the College’s “forms of support were not associated with Mr. Wagner’s proposals.” He added that “all funds associated with this program were under the control of the college and were managed by me.”
On whether Trinity’s Constitution Plaza was utilized as part of Wagner’s project, Rojas stated “our downtown spaces have only been used by Infosys and the Digital Health Accelerator that we supported as part of our partnership with UConn, Hartford HealthCare and the State of Connecticut…We had a successful first cohort of companies. We had plans for a second cohort of companies this past spring but that effort has been placed on hold because of the impact of the pandemic.”
Wagner was appointed to the Board of Trustees in August 2015 by Berger-Sweeney. Wagner resigned from Trinity’s Board of Trustees in 2017 without citing a reason around the time of the indictment, a fact which Rojas confirmed.
Wagner’s proposal included building a 70,000-square-foot building near Hartford Hospital, which would house three startups while creating 195 jobs. He founded CliniFlow Technologies in order to continue soliciting investments for the venture while hiding the numerous outstanding lawsuits from previous employees who worked at companies either controlled or owned by himself, including Downing Investment Partners, Downing Digital Healthcare Group, and Downing Health Technologies. After lying on a funding application about any “outstanding, pending or anticipated” legal issues, the Connecticut state Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD) wired CliniFlow a loan-grant package of $400,000. At the time, the company was short on cash, with only $3 left in its bank account. The Bond Commission also approved an additional $3.6 million package, but the DECD withdrew its approval after Wagner missed multiple project milestones. CliniFlow also raised $1.5 million in private investments.
After receiving the crucial capital injection of $400,000 from the DECD, Wagner proceeded to quickly transfer $65,000 to an overdrawn business bank account before using $27,000 to buy one of his daughters a new BMW 320. According to the Hartford Business Journal, he diverted new investments twice while his companies were struggling to meet payroll in order to purchase high-end Porsches.
Last week, Wagner, following a plea agreement with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, plead guilty to one count of wire fraud and two counts of securities fraud after being indicted on five counts of wire and securities fraud. Each count carries a maximum prison sentence of 20 years, with sentencing scheduled for January 2021. This comes after the release of a previous sealed indictment that outlines his scheme.
As a part of his plea agreement, Wagner is required to forfeit $549,000 and pay restitution of nearly $7.9 million to victims of his fraud. Wagner filed for personal bankruptcy in 2018 and was previously unable to raise a $500,000 bond in order to avoid wearing an ankle bracelet after his arrest in 2019. According to a court transcript, his attorney–who was provided by a non-profit legal aid firm that helps indigent defendants–Wagner had no financial resources and was working full time as a call center representative.
The case was litigated before the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York under Docket No. 1:19-cr-00437-AKH.