Claims of Corruption, Bullying by Town Officials Rock Newington, as Targets Swing Back in Court

Town of Newington (Credit: Google Map Data, 2024)


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NEWINGTON – Newington’s former town attorney and six other individuals filed a lawsuit Friday in New Britain Superior Court claiming several former and current town officials made derogatory and defamatory comments about them on issues ranging from favored tax assessments for favored property owners to claims of a hostile work environment.

Former Town Attorney Benjamin Ancona Jr. is the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit – which seeks at least $15,000 in damages – aimed primarily at Town Assessor Fauna Eller, who is currently on medical leave. Former Police Chief Stephen Clark, the Town of Newington and Rocky Hill Assessor Stuart Topliff are also cited as defendants.

The lawsuit is in part in response to an August 2023 complaint filed by Eller with the town claiming bullying and unethical behavior by Ancona contributing to a hostile work environment, as well as three separate complaints filed with the Board of Ethics in October 2023. 

Eller, who lives in Killingworth, was hired by the town in April 2022.

According to Attorney Anthony Palermino, an internal town investigation cleared Ancona and others cited by Eller. 

But Newington Mayor Jon Trister declined a request on Tuesday for a copy of the investigation and its findings. And when asked who had conducted the internal investigation, Trister said he did not know, explaining that the investigation had occurred prior to his election in November. 

Palermino, who has a practice in Newington, is representing all of the plaintiffs in the case. 

The 34-page lawsuit filed by Palermino claims that on Dec. 15, 2022 Eller “began a series of defamatory and untrue statements” about Ancona, and that her claims extended to former Town Manager Thomas Hutka, former Board of Assessment Appeals member Jennifer Ancona, who is Ben Ancona’s wife, former Board of Assessment Appeals member Maria Pane and former Town Councilor Michael Camillo.

Although CT Examiner has been generally aware of numerous allegations against Ancona and others – and filed a complaint with the state’s Freedom of Information Commission in Sept. 2023 requesting copies complaints against town employees – the lawsuit by the plaintiffs provides the first clear look at allegations aimed at Ancona and others. 

The Town of Newington has declined to provide copies of the actual complaints and continues to fight their release.

According to the lawsuit, Eller alleges falsely that:

  • Ben Ancona was “unethical, abrasive, bullying and to have biasly advocated for certain taxpayers…”

  • Ben Ancona “seems not to care” about what is best for the town “but rather what is best for a certain few people who live or own businesses/real estate in the town…”

  • Board of Assessment Appeals members Pane and Jennifer Ancona “heavily pressured this office [Assessor] to allow them to re-open the session to change decisions made, made efforts to change paperwork that contained decision results; made phone calls, sent several emails.”

  • Pane attempted “to use her position to change assessments on her husband’s property, and for doing reductions for Richard Hayes, a fellow Republican and donor to the NRTC [Newington Republican Town Committee].”

  • Ben Ancona “used his public office to run for probate judge, which would be a personal gain. Mr. Ancona received over $19,000 in political contributions.”  Hayes is cited as a donor to Ancona’s campaign.

According to the lawsuit, Eller complained that Ancona spent over a year “trying to slash the [assessment] values” of properties that Hayes was a principal in. Eller also claimed that Ancona “has a clear conflict of interest [related to Hayes] that I am sure runs deeper than just this political donation.”

Palermino denies those allegations. 

Eller also claimed that Jennifer Ancona “encouraged” the Board of Assessment Appeals to reduce the assessment values of several properties owned by Hayes Properties Newington LLC.

Palermino denies that allegation as well.

The defendants have until June 18 to respond to the lawsuit. Contacted by CT Examiner on Tuesday, Eller referred all comments to her attorney, Julie Morgan. Morgan has not responded to requests for comment.

The plaintiffs claim breach of confidentiality, bringing an ethics complaint against Ancona without factual basis and causing emotional distress to Jennifer Ancona, in their complaint against Eller, among other claims made against the defendants in the suit.

An earlier March 25 letter from Palermino demanded that Eller retract her claims.

The letter warns, in part: “You have made and/or continue to make false and defamatory statements, verbal, written, and/or by email, electronic, telephonic and/or on social media platforms and have published them to other persons and/or entities about those individuals…. We hereby demand that you cease making and/or publishing such statements which are damaging to their individual reputation and individual business endeavors.”

The plaintiffs are also suing the Town of Newington for “failure to indemnify” the plaintiffs.

Clark, who worked as Newington Police chief from 2015 to October 2023, is also accused in the lawsuit of defaming some of the plaintiffs.

The lawsuit contends that Clark, who was born and raised in Newington, attended a Democratic Town Committee meeting in October 2023, which was broadcast locally and worldwide on YouTube, where he read a text he received from Eller.

The lawsuit states Clark read the text from his phone. The text includes assertions by Eller that “I am facing retaliation in terms of threatening to fire for not cooperating with illegal and unethical activity by the town manager and the town council… These threats are due to not cooperating with the agendas of certain elected and appointed officials who are using local government for personal and financial gain for themselves and politically-connected or favored residents or taxpayers….”

Clark also warned that “an investigation by the Attorney General’s Office is warranted or by the State’s Attorney’s Office.”

Clark declined to comment Tuesday.

With regard to Topliff, the lawsuit claims he defamed Ben Ancona when Topliff replied to an email circulated to a dozen assessors in the state saying “It is clear that the town [Newington] just wants to give everything away while lining the pockets of their attorney friend with taxpayer funds. Wonder what kickbacks he is providing the town committee.”

Topliff was not at work Tuesday and could not be reached.

Ancona referred all comments to Palermino, who told CT Examiner Tuesday that he’d be seeking monetary damages of at least “the high six figures.”

“This suit is about accountability,” Palermino told CT Examiner. “We are holding the defendants accountable for the defamatory statements against our clients and we are going to see if they can prove the truth of the statements they made.”

The town referred all comments to Shipman & Goodwin partner Matt Ritter, who is also the Connecticut Speaker of the House. 

Ritter had no comment on the matter Tuesday.

Asked whether the Town of Newington had paid any town employees to settle their complaints, Trister texted in reply, “I am not aware of any instances where this happened prior to our administration. Since becoming mayor, there have also been no instances of this that I am aware of.” 

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Robert Storace

Robert Storace is a veteran reporter with stints at New Britain Herald, the New Haven Register, the Connecticut Post, Hartford Business Journal and the Connecticut Law Tribune. Storace covers the State Capitol for CT Examiner. T: 203 437 5950