STAMFORD – A state Superior Court judge Monday found the city’s former Democratic Party chief guilty of all 28 Class D felonies he faced in a ballot fraud case.
But the long-delayed case, in which John Mallozzi is charged with forging absentee ballots in the 2015 municipal election, is far from over.
Mallozzi will appeal after he is sentenced Nov. 14, said Stephan Seeger, his attorney.
Seeger said he has significant questions about the fairness of the trial after witnesses he wished to challenge did not have to testify, and the handwriting expert at the heart of the prosecutor’s case reached conflicting conclusions.
“The twists and turns in this case are shocking,” Seeger said.
In a move prompted by news of a reported FBI investigation into the town clerk’s office, Judge Kevin Randolph informed witnesses that they could incriminate themselves by testifying. As a result, only one of Seeger’s witnesses appeared on the stand.
Mallozzi did not have the opportunity to confront those who testified against him, which “is a dark cloud over the faith we can have in a verdict like this,” Seeger said.
His client appeared to agree.
“Did you expect anything different?” Mallozzi said as he left the courtroom after Randolph pronounced him guilty 28 times.
Mallozzi chose a court trial rather than a jury trial, so it was Randolph’s job to render a verdict.
One line in the judge’s decision seems to summarize his thinking on the case.
“By the defendant’s hand alone, 26 people could have had their civil right to vote extinguished,” Randolph said, reading his verdict into the record.
According to the trial record, 26 fraudulent absentee ballots were submitted to the town clerk’s office in a “scheme” involving Mallozzi and former Republican Town Clerk Donna Loglisci. The state, however, raised instances involving 14 voters, charging Mallozzi with 14 counts each of 2nd-degree forgery and false statement in absentee balloting.
Mallozzi, 72, could be sentenced to a maximum of five years in prison, or a fine that could total $140,000, or both.
Assistant State’s Attorney Laurence Tamaccio brought the case to trial.
“I am obviously pleased with the verdict,” Tamaccio said after Monday’s proceeding. “I thought it was a strong case during the investigation, and it was a strong case at trial, supported by evidence.”
He can’t comment on a possible appeal, Tamaccio said.
“I would only say that Mr. Seeger cross-examined every state witness ad nauseam,” Tamaccio said. “He had ample opportunity to test our evidence, and he came up short.”
Seeger had asked the judge to dismiss the case because the state engaged in “selective prosecution.” Seeger based his motion on a conclusion by the State Elections Enforcement Commission that Loglisci, who as town clerk was in charge of distributing absentee ballots, gave them to Mallozzi in violation of state law.
The law says absentee ballots may be given only to voters who apply for them and obtain them after the town clerk’s office verifies their identity.
Loglisci admitted on the stand that she broke the law “a few times” by giving Mallozzi ballots. But she was not charged. Seeger asserted that Mallozzi and Loglisci were “similarly situated,” a legal term for both being in a position to be charged.
The judge found that to be true, saying Mallozzi and Loglisci were both “involved in Stamford party politics, (Mallozzi) as a Democrat, Loglisci as a Republican,” and “both were involved with handling the absentee ballot applications and ballot sets.”
Further, Randolph said, Loglisci allowed Mallozzi to pick up ballots “even though the applications for those ballots should have been rejected” because they were filled out improperly. “Both were subject to liability,” the judge wrote.
The SEEC “plans further enforcement action against Loglisci,” Randolph wrote, but did not refer her for prosecution because the charges against her were misdemeanors. The SEEC referred Mallozzi because of the forgery charges, which are felonies.
Mallozzi’s “alleged forgeries distinguish his conduct from Loglisci’s,” Randolph said, and denied Seeger’s motion to dismiss the case.
Randolph accepted the conclusions of state’s witness Greg Kettering, the now-retired chief handwriting and document examiner for Connecticut. Kettering found there were “indications” that the handwriting on suspected ballot documents and samples of Mallozzi’s handwriting were written by the same person, though his findings for each individual document were “far from conclusive.”
But, the judge wrote, in assessing all the documents taken together, Kettering “was virtually certain” that the writing came from the same person.
Seeger pushed back hard on that point throughout the trial, which took place over three days in late July and five days in late August and early September.
It will be a major element of his appeal, Seeger said.
“Reasonable doubt is a high burden,” Seeger said. “The state has not met that burden here.”
Another major element of appeal will be the unusual turn the case took when Seeger in August received from the city law department documents he’d subpoenaed weeks earlier.
Among the documents was a complaint sent to the FBI by a city official alleging improprieties in the town clerk’s office during the 2017 municipal election. Because of that, Randolph said he was obligated to inform the witnesses that they had the right not to testify because anything they said could be used against them by the FBI in its investigation.
Seeger said he’d planned to call Loglisci and two clerks that worked under her, Diane Pesiri and Maria Stabile, in his final chance to question them near the end of the trial. But Pesiri and Stabile declined to testify, as did Willy Giraldo, who also received ballots from Loglisci. After that, Seeger did not try to bring Loglisci or other witnesses to the stand.
Loglisci had earlier testified for the state, followed by Pesiri. In between, an SEEC investigator testified that his agency will resume its investigation into the town clerk’s office, but the judge did not inform Pesiri that she might put herself in jeopardy by taking the stand, Seeger said.
“Pesiri was a key witness for the state. But she was not given the opportunity to not testify for the state, even though we had just learned that the SEEC is investigating,” Seeger said. “She was only given the opportunity to not testify when I wanted to put her on the stand.”
Randolph did not address the witness issue in his verdict.
Around Connecticut, political party officials have been watching the Mallozzi trial among proposals to permanently allow no-excuse absentee balloting, which was temporarily implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic. Besides that, voters will decide in the Nov. 8 election whether to amend the state constitution to allow early in-person voting.
Robin Druckman, chair of the Stamford Democratic City Committee – a position Mallozzi held from 2012 to 2016 – said no one is above the law.
“Those who are involved in our elections must be held to the highest standards and fully accountable to the rules that govern our elections,” Druckman said. “Our judicial system provides for a process that is critically important in determining if and when election rules have not been followed as they should be, and for individuals to have their day in court. This process, which we need to trust and is foundational to our democracy, must be allowed to play out until it has run its full course.”
Josh Esses, chair of the Stamford Republican Town Committee – a position Loglisci held for six years before becoming town clerk – said Democrats who dominate the state Legislature have not instituted reforms.
“All voter fraud is disgusting. If only the Democrats in our state took voter integrity seriously and enacted safeguards instead of repeatedly rejecting signature verification in our state Legislature,” Esses said. “There appear to be no safeguards to prevent this from happening in other places, and Democrats are happy with it like that.”
Nancy DiNardo, chair of the Democratic State Central Committee, where Mallozzi once was a member, said his case illustrates that the system does identify wrongdoing.
“SEEC and the FBI picked up on it,” DiNardo said. “That’s important. A change in laws doesn’t mean there won’t be someone out there looking to disregard them.”
Connecticut has some of the most restrictive absentee balloting laws in the country, DiNardo said, and the issue should be viewed from that standpoint.
“Turnout is lowest in municipal elections, and they affect people the most,” she said. “Maybe if they have more opportunity to vote by absentee ballot, people will participate more.”
Ben Proto, chair of the state Republican State Central Committee, said other states use signature verification.
“We support the easiest and most accessible ways for all who have the right to vote, and we support penalties for those who abuse the system,” Proto said.
Election reforms are “an issue for the next secretary of the state who will be elected in November, and for the Legislature to deal with next year,” Proto said.
Each of the state’s 169 municipalities handles elections in its own way, he said, and Connecticut needs a standardized process.
“We’ve made changes to the statutes over the years that have been piecemeal. Some conflict with each other, and everybody interprets them differently,” Proto said.
The Mallozzi case must “send a strong signal,” he said.
“If the sentence is 90 days in jail and a fine, that’s useless,” he said. “The judge has to say that this fundamental right needs to be protected, and this person has to go to jail for a long period of time.”
This story has been updated to include comments by Nancy DiNardo, chair of the Democratic State Central Committee