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FBI comes back to town

January 20, 2019

Bridgeport’s Department of Public Facilities, the department with a heart of gold, or, at least, a heart of scrap metal, now finds itself under the scrutiny of the FBI.

It is not likely that this investigation is going to end in a major takedown, as occurred the last time the bureau took an interest in the goings on at Bridgeport City Hall.

That, of course, was in 2003 and no less than the mayor at that time — Joseph P. Ganim — was taken down on multiple counts of corruption.

Here, the feds are looking — for the moment — at the sale of scrap metal by some entrepreneurially inclined employees of the Public Facilities department.

The cash that changed hands, it’s been reported, is around $35,000. Small potatoes, you might say, particularly for the FBI to get involved.

As to the “heart of gold” reference, at one point the department’s director, John K. Ricci, described a departmental “sunshine fund” that scattered petty cash around for things like birthday cakes, contributions to food pantries and Toys for Tots, and so on.

Small potatoes, sure. But as history has shown, when you start digging up small potatoes, you just never know what you might find.

The FBI has long had something of a sour taste in its mouth about Bridgeport. It dates back to at least 1981 when the late Bridgeport Police Superintendent Joseph A. Walsh turned the tables on the agency when it tried to entrap Walsh with a bribe offered by an FBI informant.

One of Walsh’s favorite sayings was “You don’t get clues from choir boys.” He was wired into a network of rascals, politicians — probably some choir boys, too — at every level of city life. He’d been tipped to the FBI caper and ended up arresting the informant, pulling his pants down and exposing the wire the feds had put on him.

It was a bad day for the FBI. When they came back two decades later, there may have been a little extra zeal in their efforts.

Sometimes, the FBI does not want you know that it is around. They sometimes like to work on the down low.

Many years ago, for instance, I walked past a downtown Bridgeport restaurant and saw a special agent I knew working behind the counter in an apron.

We looked at each other … and I left.

Other times, they feel it’s good to let people know that they are around.

In the interlocking directorate that is the Democratic Party in Bridgeport, everyone knows everyone. It’s not easy for a city employee to step forward with an allegation.

So, in the current case, as happened in the investigation into the first Ganim administration, a credible anonymous letter set things in motion. And once an investigation gets into motion, it can pick up momentum.

A city employee with the nom-de-pen of “Fragger” was a steady source of encouragement — and information — with letters sent to the Connecticut Post and the feds over a period of months while the investigation proceeded.

Cases of public corruption interest the FBI because, for one thing, a city like Bridgeport receives federal money and the agency takes seriously any violation of the public trust.

So it may be small potatoes and a few people will get in trouble and the FBI will move on.

But stay tuned.

Michael J. Daly is retired editor of the editorial page of the Connecticut Post. Email: Mike.Daly@hearstmediact.com.

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