Stamford’s former Democratic Party chief, found guilty last year of multiple counts of ballot forgery, is appealing that decision.
John Mallozzi claims that he was not allowed to call his own handwriting expert or cross-examine a witness who testified against him during his trial, and that only he was prosecuted even though the former town clerk and one of her employees also were found liable in the ballot fraud scheme.
Mallozzi’s attorney, Stephan Seeger, has filed a brief asking that the state Appellate Court overturn the September decision by Superior Court Judge Kevin Randolph, who convicted Mallozzi of 14 counts each of 2nd-degree forgery and making false statements in absentee balloting, all Class D felonies, in connection with Stamford’s 2015 municipal election.
Randolph in November sentenced Mallozzi, who is in his mid-70s, to 13 months in prison, suspended pending successful completion of two years of probation, and a $35,000 fine.
In his brief, Seeger laid out points he made several times during the trial in the Stamford courthouse, where Mallozzi faced charges that he forged absentee ballots to influence election results for seats on the Board of Representatives, Board of Finance and Board of Education.
During the trial Seeger spent a good deal of time questioning Greg Kettering, who was the state’s chief handwriting and document examiner. Kettering testified that he found “indications” that Mallozzi handwriting samples and the handwriting on suspicious individual ballot documents were written by the same person, though his findings were “far from conclusive.”
But, Kettering testified, when he viewed the documents in totality, he “was virtually certain” that the writing on the ballots and the Mallozzi samples came from the same person.
Seeger wrote in the appeal that, because “the handwriting analyst could not say with any confidence that (Mallozzi) was the author,” he asked the judge to allow him to bring in his own expert, but Randolph refused.
“Another expert’s clarification … was appropriate and necessary to afford the defendant the opportunity for a fair trial,” Seeger wrote in the appeal. “There was no substitute for a second opinion from a qualified expert to contradict Mr. Kettering’s claims on the stand.”
Fifth Amendment vs. Sixth
Seeger’s brief raises what he counts as another reason for the appeal.
It came up near the end of the trial, when Seeger received documents he’d subpoenaed weeks earlier from the city’s law department.
The documents included a complaint sent to the FBI by a city official alleging improprieties in the town clerk’s office during the 2017 municipal election. The judge in the Mallozzi trial said he was obligated to inform witnesses who worked in the town clerk’s office that they had the right not to testify because the FBI could use their words against them in any investigation.
Seeger said that impeded Mallozzi’s right to a fair trial because among the witnesses he’d planned to call were former Town Clerk Donna Loglisci and Diane Pesiri, an employee in Loglisci’s office.
Loglisci, a Republican, was involved in a ballot fraud “scheme” with Democrat Mallozzi, according to investigators with the State Elections Enforcement Commission, the first to take the case. Loglisci was a state’s witness who testified that she broke the law by handing over blank ballots to Mallozzi.
Before Seeger could cross-examine Loglisci, she exercised her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, as explained by the judge, and refused to take the stand again.
Pesiri did the same.
That violated Mallozzi’s Sixth Amendment right to confront his accusers and understand the nature of the evidence against him, Seeger wrote in the appeal.
Seeger focused on Pesiri, who testified for the state that she saw Mallozzi handle absentee ballots, that she prepared ballot sets for Mallozzi to pick up, and that she wrote his initials on ballot applications intended for him.
Seeger alleged in the appeal that Pesiri could have been included in a possible FBI investigation revealed in the documents he subpoenaed from the city, and that she “would have had a motive to shift attention from herself and the town clerk’s office to Mr. Mallozzi.”
Despite the possibility, Pesiri “elected not to testify and the court excused her without further inquiry,” Seeger wrote in the appeal, so he “was deprived of the ability to cross-examine this witness about her motivation in testifying” and had no opportunity to “test her credibility.”
Consequently, Seeger wrote, “the court should have stricken Ms. Pesiri’s testimony,” and the “refusal to do so was a manifest error.”
Loglisci, who was not charged in the ballot fraud case, ran for re-election as town clerk in 2017 but was defeated by Democrat Lyda Ruijter.
Asked Thursday whether Pesiri still works in the town clerk’s office, Ruijter said Pesiri has been on leave since October.
One prosecuted, others not
A third reason for the appeal is described by Seeger as selective prosecution.
In the brief Seeger cites the testimony of Scott Branfuhr, an investigator with the State Elections Enforcement Commission. Branfuhr said the SEEC legal staff thought Loglisci should be charged with negligence and fraud “because she involved herself in a scheme to accept bogus absentee ballot applications and ballot sets.”
According to the appeal, Branfuhr said Loglisci and Pesiri were identified by the SEEC because of their “inappropriate handling of the absentee ballots.”
The SEEC “found Mallozzi, Loglisci and Pesiri liable, but only Mallozzi’s matter was referred to the state’s attorney’s office for prosecution,” according to the brief. Branfuhr said that was because Mallozzi’s conduct involved felonies and Loglisci’s only misdemeanors, it states.
According to the appeal, Branfuhr said the felonies were part of a “scheme” between Mallozzi and Loglisci, and “every time Ms. Loglisci gave out a ballot set to Mr. Mallozzi, she committed a crime.”
The legal term for a criminal “scheme” is conspiracy, the appeal states. By state law, if “Loglisci or anyone else were involved in a scheme where the objective was a felony, they were all liable as potential felons,” yet no one but Mallozzi was prosecuted, the brief states.
Seeger cited other reasons for the appeal, including questions about pre-trial disclosures and evidence he says fell short of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.
The Mallozzi case began when a Stamford registrar of voters filed a report with the State Elections Enforcement Commission that a man who went to his polling place in November 2015 was told he could not vote because he’d already cast an absentee ballot.
It turned out that an absentee ballot had been taken out in the man’s name without his knowledge, which SEEC investigators traced to Mallozzi.
The case made regional headlines because Mallozzi at the time chaired the Stamford Democratic City Committee and sat on the Democratic State Central Committee. He was arrested in January 2019 after the SEEC’s 20-month investigation was handed over to state prosecutors.