Apologies Issued After Mayor's Name Surfaces In Drug Case
BRIDGEPORT -- The allegations were dicey - the result, federal prosecutors said, of an accidental release of information. But the news that a man charged with drug trafficking had claimed Bridgeport Mayor John Fabrizi could be seen on video using cocaine left resident Linda Palmer with only one reaction.
"In Bridgeport, God only knows," the 56-year-old grandmother of four said, clasping her hands across her face as she sat under an umbrella on the sidewalk outside her home.
This was the same city, after all, that lost its previous mayor, Joseph P. Ganim, to federal prison, where he's serving a nine-year sentence on corruption charges. And in a city where many residents still recall Ganim with nostalgia, the allegations seemed to make little dent in the impressions many already had of Fabrizi, a lifetime Bridgeport resident who can often be found in local diners or on the radio, pledging to fix neighborhood blemishes.
Fabrizi has not been charged with any crime, and is not a focus of a drug investigation. The allegations against him surfaced from an inadvertently unsealed document, and led to an unusual series of events that left a federal prosecutor apologizing to the mayor.
Fabrizi admitted to "poor personal choices," though he stopped short of detailing them or saying whether he had ever used cocaine.
The allegations were contained in a summary of interviews FBI agents began conducting 11 months ago with Juan Marrero, a defendant in a major drug distribution case. Marrero told the agents, among other things, that Bridgeport Democratic Town Committee member Shawn Fardy, who is a defendant in yet another federal drug case, claimed to have a videotape of Fabrizi using cocaine. The allegations were reported Friday by the Connecticut Post.
U.S. Attorney Kevin J. O'Connor said Friday the Post was able to examine the interview summary after the document was inadvertently placed in a public file in U.S. District Court in Bridgeport on Thursday. Because FBI interview summaries often contain secondhand, uncorroborated allegations, they are typically not made public.
O'Connor said his office sealed the document Friday and he apologized for what he called the oversight that made it briefly public. O'Connor said he personally apologized to Fabrizi's lawyer, Robert Goulash of Bridgeport, and "I also disclosed that the mayor is not a target of this drug investigation."
"It should not have been filed in a non-sealed manner and once we learned that it had been, we took steps to seal it," O'Connor said Friday morning. "We made a mistake and I accept responsibility, the office accepts responsibility. I apologized to the mayor as well as to anybody else who might have been named or referenced therein. Those types of things should not be in the public domain, particularly when we are not asserting charges against any of these individuals."
According to the Post's report on the FBI document Friday, Marrero told FBI agents that he never personally sold drugs to the mayor. But he said that he once provided Fardy with 15.5 grams - about half an ounce - of cocaine after Fardy told Marrero "Fabrizi was coming over" and "needed a hit."
A source familiar with the FBI document said Friday that the Post account accurately reflects its content. But the source said that Marrero, who has known Fardy for years, never claimed to have seen the videotape and has no independent knowledge that it exists.
About a year and a half ago, rumors of drug use by Fabrizi began circulating in Bridgeport political and legal circles. Fabrizi took office in 2003, after Ganim resigned following his conviction on 16 federal corruption charges.
Marrero is one of the lead defendants charged in a wide-ranging conspiracy to distribute cocaine and oxycodone in Fairfield Country and the Naugatuck Valley. He was arrested on Feb. 19, 2005. Fardy is charged with conspiracy to distribute narcotics in a separate case and was arrested on May 17. Attorneys for Marrero and Fardy declined to discuss the case Friday.
Marrero told FBI agents he has known Fardy since the two were teenagers and began selling him significant quantities of cocaine four or five years ago, according to the Post account. Fabrizi, meanwhile, declined to say whether he had ever used cocaine, but expressed remorse for what he called casual, social actions.
"I have made some poor personal choices that in retrospect I kick myself for making," he said Friday. "But I've moved beyond that, and I've elected not to make those choices anymore."
Fabrizi said he is unaware of a videotape. The mayor spent part of the day in New Britain, finalizing an agreement on a Bridgeport redevelopment project. He said he has no plans to resign.
Word of the allegations drew mixed responses in Bridgeport Friday - and, in some circles, not much notice.
Most days, Jonathan Mathias said, you can hear the local gossip in his deli, Jams Good Food Fast on John Street, down the block from the mayor's office. But Friday, he said, the alleged drug use barely drew a word.
"From what I've seen, it's a nonissue," he said. Perhaps it was because people want to focus on good things in the city, like new construction and work on existing buildings, he said. Or because of the nature of the claims.
"I'm sure it's a personal problem," he said. "The city's going to carry on."
As they lunched at Frankie's Diner on Barnum Avenue, Frances Ciuci, 86, and Helen Felisko, 79, said they already had their opinions of the mayor, a "people person" they knew from the interviews he often conducts on WICC-AM radio.
"I think the mayor's doing the best he can," said Ciuci, a Barnum Street resident for 60 years. "The streets are well taken care of."
Others made light of the nature of the accusations.
"If the president could smoke and not inhale and have sexual encounters with an intern ..." Maria Fanell said of former President Clinton as she sat outside the Bridgeport Center office building on Main Street Friday afternoon. Then she trailed off. The allegations should be investigated, she said.
But like many residents Friday, Fanell, who grew up and works in Bridgeport but now lives in Shelton, was more concerned with the current state of the city. In her view, it wasn't good.
"We need Ganim back!" she called out.
It was a common refrain among Fabrizi supporters and bashers alike, who credit Ganim with transforming the city. The allegations seemed to have little effect on people's opinions of the current mayor; those unhappy with his job said they were hardly surprised, while those who supported him said they wouldn't pass judgment until all the facts came out.
Except Jewelsteine Desruisseaux.
The 42-year-old mother of three boys said she'd been pleased by Fabrizi. That is, until her oldest son told her, "Ma, the mayor's getting high."
When he said he didn't see why cocaine was illegal, she tried to explain that everyone makes mistakes and you shouldn't follow what everyone else does. Still, she said, mayors are supposed to be role models. And when her son said he figured Fabrizi would get away with it, she knew it was a problem that wouldn't go away.
If videotaped proof does exist, she said, there's only one course of action for the mayor to take. "He needs to apologize, admit to it and step off," said Desruisseaux, a Bridgeport native who now lives in Stratford but returns for family events, like a day in Washington Park with her nieces and nephews Friday.
Bridgeport politicians also had strong words for the mayor.
State Sen. William Finch, D-Bridgeport, said Fabrizi needs to be more forthcoming with voters. "Perhaps he can turn a negative into a positive," he said. "Maybe he can use this dark episode to work with the youth to try to get them to stay away from drugs."
State Rep. Christopher Caruso, a Democrat who lost to Fabrizi in a mayoral primary in 2003, said he was disturbed by the allegation. "He's compromised his office," Caruso said. "The mayor is deeply involved with the same drug underworld that's killing our kids and ripping our community apart."
An Associated Press report was included in this story.
2006 The Hartford Courant