Before witnesses from the town clerk’s office took the stand Wednesday in Stamford’s ongoing election fraud trial, Judge Kevin Randolph offered fair warning.
It is the court’s understanding, Randolph said, that the State Elections Enforcement Commission is still investigating Stamford’s 2015 municipal election – the subject of the trial – and that the FBI is investigating the 2017 municipal election.
Because of that, witnesses from the town clerk’s office would assume a degree of risk by taking the stand, the judge said.
“If you testify today under oath, the court cannot be certain that the SEEC or the FBI could not use that testimony against you in either investigation,” Randolph told the witnesses.
He advised them of their right to remain silent and their right to legal representation, then gave them three choices.
“You can decide that you want to testify anyway. You can decide that you don’t want to testify at all. Or you can decide that you want to consult with a lawyer to determine whether you should testify,” Randolph said.
The witnesses were called by Stephan Seeger, the attorney defending John Mallozzi, the former head of Stamford’s Democratic Party who is charged with 14 counts of 2nd-degree forgery and 14 counts of filing false statements in absentee balloting. All the counts are Class D felonies punishable by up to five years in prison, or a fine that could total $140,000, or both.
SEEC investigators have charged that Democrat Mallozzi took part in a ballot fraud “scheme” with former Town Clerk Donna Loglisci, a Republican. Loglisci has testified that she broke the law “a few times” when she gave ballots to Mallozzi.
Loglisci, a witness in the case, has not been charged.
Mallozzi is charged with forging the names of unsuspecting voters on 14 absentee ballots in the 2015 election, which decided seats on the Board of Representatives, Board of Finance and Board of Education.
Randolph said the FBI investigation appears to concern “allegations of impropriety within the town clerk’s office” during the 2017 election. It is unknown whether the FBI investigation is open or closed, Randolph said.
Current Town Clerk Lyda Ruijter, the first witness called Wednesday, was not in office during the 2015 or 2017 municipal elections. Ruijter, a Democrat, defeated Loglisci in the 2017 race and took office a month later. Ruijter was reelected last year.
Ruijter chose to consult with an attorney before deciding whether to testify. So did two other witnesses who work in the town clerk’s office. A city attorney accompanied them to court.
Randolph ordered all three witnesses to return to court Thursday to either testify or declare that they do not wish to testify.
Little is known about investigations into the two municipal elections.
The FBI’s Bridgeport office referred a question about the 2017 election to the FBI office in New Haven. A message left Wednesday with the New Haven office was not returned.
Josh Foley, spokesman for the SEEC, said Wednesday he cannot comment on the particulars of any probe into the 2015 election.
“I can’t talk specifically about that investigation other than to say it’s still an open investigation with us,” Foley said. “When we refer a case to the chief state’s attorney, we keep our file open while the state’s attorney’s case is pending.”
He is not aware of any FBI investigation into a Stamford election, Foley said.
During Wednesday’s proceedings, Seeger made a motion to acquit his client and another motion to dismiss the case. In his arguments Seeger hinted at the improprieties the SEEC and FBI may be investigating in the town clerk’s office.
“People generally don’t want to believe bad things about government, that there would be corruption in the office of the town clerk,” Seeger said. “But sloppiness can lead to something else.”
Testimony has shown that procedures were ignored or followed inconsistently, Seeger said, and all of it was overseen by Loglisci, who “admitted to felonies” during her testimony in July.
SEEC investigators “implicated Mr. Mallozzi and Ms. Loglisci in the same scheme,” Seeger said, but only Mallozzi was charged. Seeger called it “selective prosecution” and said it’s grounds for dismissal.
Not so, Deputy Assistant State’s Attorney Michael Bivona said in his counter-argument.
“Mr. Mallozzi is the only person whose handwriting is on the absentee ballots,” Bivona said. “Even if Ms. Loglisci were a bad actor in this, her handwriting is not at issue.”
Assistant State’s Attorney Laurence Tamaccio disputed Seeger’s town clerk “sloppiness” argument.
“Mr. Mallozzi was enmeshed in city politics for decades. He knew there was sloppiness and he exploited the sloppiness to get away with it,” Tamaccio said. “What other intent could there have been other than to sway an election?”
Randolph ruled that Seeger’s argument did not meet the standard for acquittal, which is whether “there is sufficient evidence that would reasonably permit a finding of guilt,” and denied that motion.
The judge said he will decide Seeger’s motion to dismiss after the defense rests.
Seeger said that on Thursday he will call two witnesses besides the ones from the town clerk’s office who appeared in court Wednesday. It is not known whether the final two witnesses work in the town clerk’s office and so will be allowed to opt out of testifying.
Tamaccio has rested the state’s case.
Closing arguments are scheduled for Friday, when Randolph would like the trial to wrap up.