STAMFORD – During closing arguments Friday in the ballot-fraud trial of John Mallozzi, the state’s attorney and defense counsel acknowledged lapses in the town clerk’s office, agreeing there was “a fox in the henhouse.”
They disagreed, though, on the identity of the fox.
Mallozzi’s attorney, Stephan Seeger, has spent much of the two-week trial describing procedural inconsistencies, short-cuts and mistakes in the office of then-Town Clerk Donna Loglisci.
Seeger said “sloppiness” in the office morphed into a cover-up, a premise he said is bolstered by Loglisci’s admission in court that she broke the law by handing over absentee ballots to Mallozzi.
Mallozzi, then chief of Stamford’s Democratic Party, is charged with signing the absentee ballots of 14 unsuspecting voters and casting them in the 2015 municipal election.
Loglisci’s actions, and practices in her office, weaken the state’s evidence against his client, Seeger said.
The issue, Seeger said, is that a State Elections Enforcement Commission investigation began not with Mallozzi but in the town clerk’s office after a Stamford man tried to vote at his polling place but was refused because the moderator’s records showed the man had already voted by absentee ballot.
But he had not. Someone had fraudulently taken out a ballot in his name. SEEC investigators requested town clerk documents to figure things out.
“So the people being investigated are in control of all of the evidence being sent to the state,” Seeger said.
Loglisci and her staff “had a motive and an interest – their office was being investigated” and they wanted to set a target on someone outside it, he said.
The evidence sent to the SEEC was skewed to implicate his client, Seeger alleged.
“It was a fox-in-the-henhouse investigation,” Seeger said.
Because Loglisci had, by her admission, broken the law in releasing the ballots, and because she controlled the town clerk’s office and directed the staff, “the fox was Donna Loglisci,” Seeger said.
Assistant State’s Attorney Laurence Tamaccio had something to say about that.
“I agree with Mr. Seeger that there was a fox in the henhouse. The fox’s name was John Mallozzi,” Tamaccio told the court. “He had been involved in local politics for decades. He knew how the town clerk’s office ran, and he knew how to exploit the weaknesses.”
Using that knowledge, Mallozzi attempted to vote multiple times, Tamaccio said.
“Mr. Mallozzi forged people’s names on ballots. He knew who these people should have voted for, and he did it for them,” said Tamaccio, who began his closing arguments describing free and fair elections as the core of democracy, and “without them, we are lost.”
Mallozzi’s alleged actions were “an attack on the very foundation of our society, and cannot be countenanced,” Tamaccio said.
He urged Judge Kevin Randolph, who will decide the verdict, to examine the first three sets of allegedly forged absentee ballot applications and ballot envelopes the state submitted into evidence.
“The handwriting is identical” on all three, Tamaccio said.
On other allegedly forged ballot documents, voters’ names were misspelled and backwards, Tamaccio said.
“Generally speaking, people know how to spell their name,” he said. “Generally speaking, people write their first name first, and their last name last.”
Tamaccio asserted that, as chairman of the Stamford Democratic City Committee in 2015, Mallozzi had access to voter rolls, which list last names first.
Most of the allegedly forged names are those of Albanian-Americans – Isen Hoti, Avdi Gjini, Tone Shtufaj – and someone unfamiliar with the language would have difficulty spelling them or distinguishing between first name and surname, Tamaccio said. That would explain the misspellings and reversals on the ballot documents that were forged, he said.
“Because of his connections with the Democratic Party, Mr. Mallozzi selected people unlikely to vote” in the 2015 municipal election, and those were the ballots he forged, Tamaccio charged.
As part of his closing argument, Seeger focused on “the key witness in this case” – Greg Kettering, retired chief handwriting examiner for the State Police Forensic Lab.
“This case may rise or fall on what he’s said,” Seeger said.
Kettering testified that his analysis found “indications of common authorship that are far from conclusive” between the individual forged ballot documents and samples of Mallozzi’s handwriting – a weak connection.
But, collectively, Kettering testified, he is “virtually certain” that the signatures on the ballots and the Mallozzi handwriting samples were authored by the same person.
That theory, Seeger said, “is a house of cards … it can’t be trusted.”
Not so, Tamaccio said.
“It beggars belief that, in an election with fewer than one thousand absentee ballots cast, common, defining handwriting characteristics would appear on more than a dozen of them by coincidence,” Tamaccio said.
In his final argument, Seeger reiterated a significant issue that arose during Thursday’s proceedings. Randolph notified Seeger’s witnesses – most of whom work in the town clerk’s office – of their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination before they took the stand.
The judge said their testimony could possibly be used against them in a pending SEEC investigation — and a possible FBI investigation – into “improprieties in the town clerk’s office” in the 2015 and 2017 municipal elections. Under the law, they could not be forced to testify, Randolph told the witnesses.
As a result, only one of the seven people Seeger scheduled to testify took the stand.
“Mr. Mallozzi’s right to cross-examine the witnesses against him to vet out truth is the cornerstone of due process, one of the most sacred rights,” and that did not happen, Seeger said.
The judge will reconvene Sept. 12 to read his decision into the record, as well as his ruling on Seeger’s motion to dismiss the case on the basis of “selective prosecution.”
Seeger contends that Mallozzi was unfairly singled out for prosecution while others who were similarly involved were not charged. Seeger cited an SEEC finding that Mallozzi and Loglisci took part in a ballot fraud “scheme,” but Mallozzi was charged and Loglisci was not.
Randolph earlier denied Seeger’s motion to acquit Mallozzi of the charges, ruling that the state had met the standard of providing enough evidence to “reasonably permit a finding of guilt.”
Loglisci has been a state’s witness in the case. A Republican, Loglisci ran for reelection as town clerk in 2017 but was defeated by Democrat Lyda Ruijter.
The 72-year-old Mallozzi faces 28 Class D felonies, half for 2nd-degree forgery and half for filing false statements in absentee balloting, punishable by up to five years in prison, or a fine that could total $140,000, or both.