STAMFORD – On the day he would rest his case, attorney Stephan Seeger hoped to put seven witnesses on the stand in defense of his client, John Mallozzi, on trial for alleged ballot fraud.
But Seeger got only one witness on the stand, and the testimony took less than five minutes.
“My case was decimated,” Seeger said after Thursday’s proceeding in state Superior Court in Stamford.
Mallozzi, former chief of Stamford’s Democratic Party, is charged with 28 Class D felonies, half for 2nd-degree forgery and half for filing false statements in absentee balloting. The allegation is that Mallozzi signed the absentee ballots of 14 unsuspecting voters and cast them in the 2015 municipal election.
But that may not have been the only problem in the 2015 election, and there may be more problems with the municipal election that took place in 2017, according to Thursday’s proceedings.
Because of potential issues with those elections, no one had to testify if they didn’t want to, Judge Kevin Randolph told the witnesses, most of whom work in the town clerk’s office.
The State Elections Enforcement Commission, and possibly the FBI, may be investigating reported “improprieties in the town clerk’s office” involving both elections, Randolph said. So any statements made by witnesses Thursday would be recorded in court transcripts.
“The SEEC and the FBI could obtain a copy of the transcripts and use your remarks against you if you were a target of their investigations,” the judge said. “There are no consequences if you do not testify. There may be consequences if you do testify.”
Diane Pesiri, a longtime employee in the town clerk’s office, said she would not testify. Her co-worker, Maria Stabile, also decided not to testify.
Willy Giraldo, a former city representative and member of the Democratic City Committee Mallozzi then chaired, said he, too, did not wish to testify. According to Mallozzi’s arrest affidavit, Giraldo handled the Spanish absentee ballot applications in his voting district during the 2015 election, picking up absentee ballot applications and delivering completed ballots to the town clerk.
The current town clerk, Lyda Ruijter, and deputy town clerk, Chanta Graham, said they would take the witness stand Thursday. But after much argument from Seeger, the judge determined that their testimony would not add new information in the case.
Seeger particularly fought for Graham to testify, saying she has first-hand knowledge of the workings of the town clerk’s office in 2015, when it was headed by Donna Loglisci.
Loglisci has testified that she broke the law by giving ballots to Mallozzi, and SEEC investigators have charged that she took part in a ballot fraud “scheme” with Mallozzi.
But the judge didn’t buy Seeger’s argument.
“Donna Loglisci has already admitted wrongdoing,” Randolph said, and he would allow Graham’s testimony only if she were to speak to Loglisci’s “reputation in the community for truthfulness,” which is allowed under the law.
Seeger said he did not want to call Graham “for character evidence,” so Graham did not take the stand.
Ruijter, who defeated Loglisci in the 2017 race for town clerk and was reelected last year, did not testify for similar reasons. Ruijter was not in office for the 2015 or 2017 elections.
Seeger said he’d subpoenaed Loglisci to reappear – she’d already testified for the state – but he did not call her to the stand after most of his witnesses ended up not testifying. His strategy was to question Loglisci based on the testimony of the witnesses who preceded her, Seeger told the judge.
That left one more witness, Democratic Registrar of Voters Ron Malloy, who agreed to testify. Malloy explained that registrars handle absentee ballots only when counting them after the town clerk delivers them on election day.
“How long have you known Donna Loglisci?” Seeger asked.
“Twenty years,” Malloy replied.
“Do you have enough personal knowledge of her character to form an opinion about her truthfulness?” Seeger asked.
“Not high,” Malloy replied.
“Why do you say that?” Seeger asked.
“I don’t have the feeling that what she says to me is gospel,” Malloy said.
“Do you rely on her for truthfulness?” Seeger asked.
“No,” Malloy said, “especially after ten years of being a registrar.”
During Thursday’s proceeding Seeger fought repeatedly for his witnesses to take the stand, but Randolph was steadfast.
“The court is happy to protect people from self-incrimination,” the judge said.
“But that does not trump Mr. Mallozzi’s Sixth Amendment right to confront the witnesses against him,” Seeger said.
The trial is slated to end Friday, when Seeger and Assistant State’s Attorney Laurence Tamaccio will deliver closing remarks.
After Thursday’s proceedings Tamaccio said his case against Mallozzi is solid.
“I think the state’s case was strong from the beginning. It was not diminished by anything that happened” Thursday, Tamaccio said. “The judge will decide in due course.”
Seeger said the trial has raised “a sophisticated problem” – a face-off between a defendant’s right to call witnesses and a witness’s right against self-incrimination.
“It’s very rare that this kind of thing would happen to a defendant,” Seeger said.
The court knew about a likely continuing SEEC probe into the 2015 municipal election after an investigator for the agency mentioned it during testimony a few weeks ago, Seeger said.
The court learned about a possible FBI investigation into the 2017 municipal election this week, when he received information he’d subpoenaed from the city in July, Seeger said.
The information contained a complaint written to the FBI by a city official and concerns the handling of absentee ballots, Seeger said. The FBI does not comment on the status of investigations.
After what happened in court Thursday, “I’m hamstrung,” Seeger said. “Now it’s up to my closing argument.”
During the trial he has gathered information to form a foundation for appeal, Seeger said.
“I think it’s irresponsible for defense counsel to not look forward to appellate issues that could crop up in his case,” he said.
Mallozzi chose a court trial, which is decided by a judge rather than a jury. Randolph is expected to reconvene Sept. 12 to read his decision into the record.
All the counts against the 72-year-old Mallozzi are Class D felonies punishable by up to five years in prison, or a fine that could total $140,000, or both.