What started as a so-called sunshine fund to lavish goodwill perks on municipal employees from cash sales of scrap metal caused a heap of trouble for Public Works employees. Upwards of $35,000 from an off-the-books account went missing. The FBI is investigating the matter.
Mayor Joe Ganim ordered an internal review that led to the February terminations of Deputy Director Joe Tiago and recycling manager Jose DeMoura. Both are challenging their firings asserting sanctions against them were disproportionate to that of their boss Public Facilities Director John Ricci who was docked two weeks pay and two weeks paid vacation.
Ricci said then “I take no issue with the mayor’s action. I am a director and subject to the same discipline any of my subordinates are subject to.”
Ricci added “I did, in fact, continue an ongoing process that was in place which was in violation of an existing city ordinance. I did not take any money for any personal use. It was used for morale purposes.”
Ed Gavin, an attorney representing Tiago’s employment appeal before state arbitration, recently told the Connecticut Post “We believe–and the evidence has shown–that John Ricci approved scrap metal sales and directed where the funds were to be kept within his office. The fact that individuals like Tiago and DeMoura were terminated for following their supervisor’s directive is unreasonable and disproportionate.”
Ricci, a key fundraiser and campaign operative in Ganim’s reelection, recently announced his retirement from city service effective January 3, unrelated to the scrap metal controversy.
Tiago, hired in 2014 by the mayoral administration of Bill Finch, was a restaurateur with a construction background. He’s had a long-term relationship with the niece of Democratic Town Chair Mario Testa. He was elevated to the deputy director’s position by Ricci.
Federal agents were also looking into Tiago’s relationship with a city contractor who’s received tons of city work.
Roughly one year into the federal probe no one has been charged with criminal wrongdoing.
The city also hired a compliance officer to review procedures amid federal probe of missing cash.