Just the Tip of the Iceberg
State's Attorney Launches Probe Of Enfield Mayor
Land deal, retailer discount may be at crux
By Laura Schreier
Hartford Business Journal Staff Writer
The Chief State’s Attorney’s office has quietly launched an investigation of Enfield Mayor Patrick Tallarita, the Hartford Business Journal has learned.
Rumors of political corruption and conspiracy have been quietly buzzing around Enfield for months — years, some residents say — but now the state prosecutor has launched an investigation, putting its weight behind what some have dismissed as town gossip.
The investigation appears to be in its infancy. Janice Kmetz is a police inspector assigned to the Public Integrity and Political Corruption Bureau at the Office of the Chief State’s Attorney. She opened an investigation of Tallarita in early March.
A spokesman for the prosecutor’s office refused to confirm or deny that a probe of Tallarita is underway, but the Hartford Business Journal has obtained e-mails from Kmetz to various people who are part of the investigation. While the e-mails show Kmetz is doing an inquiry and reaching out to possible sources, they didn’t spell out which of the mayor’s actions are under scrutiny.
But two allegations have drawn the most local attention: One involving a group of religious sisters who had to fight a legal battle with town officials, another involving special discounts for town officials from a retailer who benefited from council actions.
One allegation concerns a “discount” offered to town officials from locally-based Bernie’s appliance stores after the business got a tax abatement.
Andy Thibault is a private investigator and respected journalist and blogger who got interested in the Tallarita case last year. His partner, James Brewer, went to the Bernie’s Enfield store a few months ago to investigate the claim of a special discount list for town employees.
Bernie’s president and owner Milton Rosenberg — son of the founder –— declined to return phone calls for this article. But Thibault’s Cool Justice blog asserts he acknowledged the store has “private sales” for town employees.
“I just can’t keep track of all these sales, but we have them,” the blog quotes Rosenberg. “We [also] do some for the fire department maybe.”
When Brewer visited the Enfield Bernie’s late last year and asked about private sales for town employees, a sales associate said, “Sure, you want me to put you on the list?” Thibault said.
Tallarita called the accusation of Bernie’s discounts “baseless.”
Mary Ann Turner, chairwoman of the Republican council, asserted the alleged illegal discount was common knowledge. Turner and her fellow Republicans had tried unsuccessfully to retrieve receipts from Bernie’s to show that Mayor Tallarita and other town officials had gotten discounts from the store.
“We know it’s there and we know it’s true. But without the receipts, you can’t prove anything.”
Turner was glad to hear of the state’s investigation: “The sooner the better.”
Another area under investigation may be a contentious land deal involving a group of nuns and the mayor’s wife.
The Felician sisters were blindsided several years ago by an order from Enfield’s Planning and Zoning Commission. The message told them they were using part of their land illegally, and should cease and desist. The land — an empty lot — had been used for decades as parking at their adjacent Montessori school.
Losing the lot would have created a major hurdle in the sisters’ operations. The sisters fought the order, and the zoning appeals board sided with them. But the Planning & Zoning Commission appealed, pitting two town agencies against each other, both funded with taxpayer money for thousands in legal fees — all to get the sisters to stop using their parking lot. But a judge last fall ruled overwhelmingly in their favor.
The whole battle seemed fishy to those watching the process, including Republican councilman Ken Nelson. The school is one of the oldest continuously operated businesses in Enfield, and, it made no sense for the zoning commission to fight it.
“What’s behind it? Why would you do that?” he asked. The answer: “There’s a lot of land behind it.”
And some of that land was owned by Tallarita’s wife. Jeannette Tallarita, a nurse, formed a partnership called Ridgewood Homes of Connecticut LLC. Her partner is M. Diane Frederick. Frederick’s husband, David Frederick, is a major developer in the region. Ridgewood Homes of Connecticut LLC developed a lot off Yale Court, behind the Enfield Montessori School. A map of the property among the Enfield land records states the following: “Not a buildable lot until required frontage is provided.”
Mayor Tallarita said he has no idea that an official investigation could be going on, and had no contact with the chief state’s attorney’s investigator.
He categorically denied the accusations against him, chalking it up to a politically motivated smear campaign that — unsurprisingly — surfaced during an election year. Tallarita has not yet decided to run for re-election this year.
“I know people would love to have me investigated for everything, from breathing too much oxygen to drinking too much water. These are political vendettas,” he said.
Republicans have criticized Tallarita, a Democrat, but it’s not just an inter-council squabble. Jack Mancuso, a local accountant who once served as a chairman of the local Democratic party, agreed that the whole land battle was disquieting. Mancuso said he wants to see an independent investigation of the matter.
Yet Tallarita points out that while the council appoints members of the zoning and planning commission, zoning officials don’t have to answer to the council during their tenure.
Some people also overestimate his reach as mayor, he said, noting that in Enfield the mayor is essentially just the chairman of the council.
Misinformation circulated around the entire affair, he said, and the accusations are largely fueled by his political opponents.
“It’s pretty crappy politics,” he said. “I’ve worked too hard and I’ve given too much to be treated like this.”
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