They’re Here … Feds Asking Questions About Airport Land Deal

It seemed like it was just a matter of time before the federals would take a look at the land deal that has led to the termination of John Ricci as airport manager, cost $400,000 (and climbing) that a state judge ruled taxpayers were not obligated to cover and caused embarrassment to city lawyers who approved the arrangement in which radioactive developer Manny Moutinho did the driveway work to improve his waterfront property in Stratford under the guise of an airport safety plan. Now they’re here.

FBI agents the past few days have been knocking on doors in the city and asking questions. An interview high on their list is Ricci who was fired from his position last week by Mayor Bill Finch for what the mayor claims is “reckless and intentional misconduct in regard to the construction of an access way on airport property.” City officials say Ricci did not disclose his past business relationship with Moutinho. Ricci is contesting the termination, saying he notified city officials of the relationship and worked only at the direction of city officials and city lawyers who approved the land deal.

Federal investigators will examine if federal money was used in the transaction with Moutinho or money that was leveraged to attract federal funds, what exactly is the relationship between Moutinho and Ricci and the culpability of the city’s decision-making beyond Ricci.

Ricci may very well sit down with FBI agents within the next few days to answer questions and share his perspective on the process. Judging by the statement Ricci issued to OIB last week he’s feeling like the city’s made him the scapegoat.

The federal review will not begin and end with Ricci. Federal investigators will want answers from a variety of officials involved in the process. Subpoenas for records could be issued. None of this means criminal charges will be leveled, but there’s certainly enough that the feds want to look under the hood of the deal. Moutinho has been on the federal radar for a few years regarding dubious sewer work in the town of Trumbull.

For additional background, Ricci issued this statement to OIB last week:

You be the Judge …

In early March 2013 I was informed by Associate City Attorney Lisa Trachtenburg that an access road servicing four property owners, one of whom is Manny Moutinho, needed to be removed to complete a Safety Improvement Project at the Airport. Removing this road would deny the property owners access to their homes. A few years earlier these same property owners approached the Airport to request that their right of way over Airport property be relocated to construct a new access road because of frequent flooding conditions on the road in their existing right of way. The request was approved by the Airport Commission and Manny Moutinho for himself and the other property owners made application to the Town of Stratford Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Commission and Stratford Zoning Board of Appeals to construct a new road which was approved except that the adjoining property owners, Breakwater Key Condo Association, appealed the decision of the Stratford Board of Appeals. Manny and his neighbors decided not to build the road until the appeal would be decided.

The safety improvement project was on a Congressional-mandated deadline and was in jeopardy because relocation of the access road was holding it up. The City Attorneys’ Office was the facilitator for the project so the City Attorney decided that the City had an obligation to provide the four property owners an alternate access to their homes/properties. The City Attorney then decided that the most expeditious way to get this done was to acquire the approval rights from Manny to construct a new access road. The City Attorney also decided that the City would pay all costs and assume all conditions to get the access road built. These decisions presented a problem for me. I had an association and long history with Manny and these decisions involved the Airport of which I was manager. Every time Manny or his Company Mark IV Construction had any dealings with the Airport in the past I would recuse myself from the process which is well documented. The Airport Commission and the City Attorneys’ Office was aware of my recusals on certain matters.

Knowing of my having a close relationship with and direct access to Manny, I was directed by Lisa Tractenburg to obtain a proposal from Manny to acquire his rights to construct the new access road regardless. Manny consented to transfer his rights but he made three demands contingent to the transfer. He wanted to be reimbursed for all his costs to get the approvals, he wanted the City to pay for all costs going forward to develop finalized plans to his standards and Town of Stratford imposed conditions to issue a permit and he wanted an opportunity to bid on the work. The City Attorneys’ Office agreed to all of his demands and after its review of the costs incurred by Manny to date I was directed by Lisa Tractenburg to pay Manny $46,000 for his rights and get the final construction plans completed which cost the City an additional $10,000. The final plans were done to the Town Of Stratford standards and imposed conditions which increased the cost of construction considerably. The costs of the access road before construction started stood at $56,000.

Lisa Tractenburg, to keep on schedule to meet the Congressional deadline decided to use a Qualified Purchase which is an expedited process to choose a contractor to build the access road. The City Purchasing Agent suggested that she get three Qualified Price Quotes (QPQs). Lisa Tractenburg directed me to get the three OPQs, one of which must come from Manny by prior agreement and I choose the other two. My choices were based on using Bridgeport contractors with known qualifications because they had done work at the Airport/City before. Contrary to what was written in newspaper articles, I received all three QPQs on the same day, April 16, 2013. I submitted the QPQs to Lisa Tractenburg and she/the Purchasing agent awarded the contract to construct the road to Mark IV Construction based on price. The contract was drawn up by Lisa Tractenburg and she instructed me to sign it on behalf of the City.

Knowing that there was an appeal that Manny decided to wait out for a judgment, the City Attorney still decided the City would take the risk and proceed to build the access road regardless. During construction, for my part in it, I hired a Professional Engineer at a cost of $4,400 to oversee the project to insure all requirements were met and I could deal arms length with Manny to avoid any conflict under the City’s Code of Ethics. The only extra cost on the job was the addition of a second fire hydrant required by the Stratford Fire Department which cost $5,500. The total cost of construction paid to Mark IV Construction was $394,500. Another expense unanticipated was $16,000 to Aquarian to inspect, test and charge the eight-inch water main installed to feed the hydrants. Also once completed the Town of Stratford requires that an as-built construction plan and survey be prepared which I estimate would cost at least $12,000. So adding it all up the total costs to date are just below $483,000. The costs are still increasing because now the city Attorneys’ Office is negotiating a settlement with Breakwater Key Condominiums on the appeal taken by them. What will that cost? Another $60,000 or $70,000? This does not include any additional legal costs the City now faces. This road will most likely have a total cost of $600,000. However, I did negotiate the sale of surplus Airport properties which should net the Airport $1,200,000 and by federal law must be used for capital improvements at the Airport. Some of the money from these property sales could be used to pay the costs of the access road instead of using money that was bonded for the Safety Improvement Project or City budget dollars.

During the entire process of getting the access road constructed I made no assumptions or decisions regarding method of procurement, final choice of contractor, or award of contract for construction. By revealing that I had a long history and close friendship with Manny to everyone involved, in effect, I recused myself at all levels of my participation and acted only as directed by the City Attorneys’ Office and did nothing including making any expenditures without its approval. Regardless of what was reported by the Connecticut Post through a series of clever cut and paste articles the extent of my business relationship with Manny throughout the entire process was that I received mortgages at prevailing market rates with full consideration from a licensed lender in which he is a principal.

Because many decisions were made above my level, be they good or bad, the Safety Improvement Project is still in jeopardy and a lot of taxpayers’ money could be spent for nothing. There could be a less expense alternative which I will bring out at a later date.

During the investigation done by the Office Of labor Relations it was alleged that I may not have performed my duties properly as my job description requires so just for the record, not as a defense, I will state that I have served under 10 of the last 11 Mayors with nearly 40 years of service to the City with a squeaky clean personnel file and numerous accomplishments. Does anyone really think I would put that record at risk? You be the judge. However questions regarding the process still remain:

Who signed the bid waiver or does one exist?

Why the lack of information to the City Council or the public about the bid waiver and the decisions made?

Why was the contract drawn up for my signature and not for the Mayor to sign? It is now known publicly that Manny was a financial supporter of Mayor Finch, did the administration create a public controversy by trying to avoid one?

Was my friendship with Manny regarded as a benefit by the City Attorney’s Office when I was directed to approach him?

Did the Mayor really not know about my close relationship with Manny especially when the investigation proved I had recused myself because of that relationship at a meeting he was chairing?

Did the Mayor lie to the public, or did the City Attorney lie to the City Council on July 1, 2013?

Did the administration create a bigger controversy than actually existed to cover up incompetence?

Maybe someone will find the answers, and once known publicly, you can be the judge.



    1. The Post got this right.
      The City Attorney has become far too institutionalized.
      If the city ever gets around to real charter change the city attorney’s office is one place to start.
      This office under the direction of Mark Anastasi has become so political, it rarely represents real legal counsel but instead provides political cover.
      The Post got it right. The CT Supreme Court does not give a rat’s ass about what the BOE does. But that statement is typical of Mark’s legal “opinions.”
      The council and BOE need totally independent legal council and should not depend on the City Attorney nor should they rely on members who happen to be attorneys

  1. “Federal investigators want to know if federal money was used in the transaction with Moutinho, …”

    Lennie, Federal investigators want to know if ANY federal law was violated. Were documents changed or destroyed? Where is Ricci’s city-assigned computer? For those who are questioned by the feds, just remember when they ask questions, they know the answer to some of them already. I plead the fifth!

    1. Joel,
      This is typical City Attorney and his response to Councilman Olsen. He parses his answer as if he is appearing before the Grand Jury, which come to think of it, maybe he is preparing for that.
      My take on the question of federal funds is it does not matter if only federal funds were used but if the city’s matching funds were used it is the same thing.
      The city agreed to match the money so as to obtain the bigger grant and as such if the matching money is spent improperly it is the same as spending the federal funds improperly.
      Also these funds become fungible which basically means coming from the same pot. So after the fact the city cannot go back and say that rock was paid for by federal funds and that rock by city money.
      But this is just a nonprofessional opinion. I do not have the legal genius of the City Attorney’s office providing me with accurate political advice, er, I mean legal advice.

    2. Now Joel,
      As someone who cooperated with the FBI when the Ganim corruption scandal was being investigated, you are correct in saying lying to the FBI is a federal offense. However, it appears Mr. Ricci’s approach is similar to mine at the time.
      I didn’t do anything wrong. I don’t have anything to hide. I have no problem talking with you.
      As a matter of fact, the agents told me it was my public comments against what was going on at the time that gave them the confidence to contact me.
      The truth shall set me free!

  2. So who wins the special election?
    Fabrizi? (Democratic candidate)
    Ganim? (can he run?)
    Foster? (Democratic candidate)
    J Gomes (Independent candidate?)
    McCarthy (scratch, he gets bracelets before Finch does, in pink)
    Stafstrom (yeah right, I see his Nixon imitation now)
    Walker? (Republican candidate)
    None of the above?

  3. I for one am glad to see the Feds here, it’s long overdue. I read Mark Anastasi’s comments to questions asked by the council and it was amazing.
    Anastasi claims the city attorney’s office did nothing wrong. REALLY? I thought one of his attorneys was involved in the airport project and yet she walks free. The airport commission of which Finch and McCarthy are members passed the contract submitted for Moutinho. Nothing happens there.
    Ricci gets fired for reckless and intentional misconduct. What is that? Why just him?
    Mark, you are lucky the council threw you softball questions. I wish I could have asked a few questions.

  4. The FBI is back on the case in Bridgeport. There is a lot of “low-hanging fruit” here. Hopefully the judicial system will issue a few “wide-striped suits” in the future. In any event, it is outrageous how much incompetence and many conflicts exist in Bridgeport’s city government, especially on the City Council. It is especially egregious in connection with Council President Tom “Conflict” McCarthy who, among other things, is a city employee in the Labor Relations Department and on the Airport Commission too! It’s time for new leadership and real reforms in Bridgeport.

  5. The city attorney gave the city council members a written update on the entire airport situation at the last meeting. He went over the highlights during the meeting. Is this a public document and if so, how would one go about getting a copy of it?

      1. Pete–thanks for the offer. I just wonder why these things are not published on the city website or downloadable with the agendas. I am sure others would like to review it. We should not have to even request it. I would like to see Phil and Rick promise to post any documents they may receive as council people to a public website. I know there are times where they receive documents that are not for public consumption, but every effort should be made to keep their constituents informed.

  6. The cost of this driveway is growing by the minute. Every City Employee questioned by the feds will have a need for counsel. Remember the statute that requires the City to cover the legal cost of Paul Vallas? It applies to all city employees involved here. It’s a great time to be an attorney in Connecticut.

  7. When I was on the City council from 1995-2001, I asked lots of questions regarding the way contracts were being awarded. I once asked Dennis Murphy why is it the city keeps awarding contracts to the same contractors or developers. The answer I got was identical to the one Ricci explains here: “… My choices were based on using Bridgeport contractors with known qualifications because they had done work at the Airport/City before …”

    The response I got from Dennis Murphy caused me to raise another question and comment. I said to Dennis if I followed that logic, then the city would always give contracts to these contractor only. I asked him how would the city know or see the quality of work other contractors could do if they are never given an opportunity? Dennis couldn’t give me an answer or explanation.

  8. I’m still waiting for a decision on the two ethics complaints I filed on behalf of CW4BB. Conflicts of interest are rampant in Bridgeport, including in connection with the City Attorney’s office, and competence is in short supply.

  9. When he was Comptroller General of the United States he complained about expenses exceeding tax revenue but never called for new leadership or reforms. That’s being conservative.
    Today, the hyper-radical former Comptroller General is calling for new leadership and radical reforms in Bridgeport. He’ll get his chance in 2015.
    Where could this happen? Answer: Only in Bridgeport.

    1. Local Eyes,
      With all due respect, you have not done your homework. I called for both leadership and structural reforms when I was U. S. Comptroller General. By the way, why do you consider it “hyper-radical” to call for truth, integrity, transparency, accountability and transformation in government? By the way, as I have said previously, I have no plans to run for office in 2015.

  10. OIB readers should know David Walker will be closing his Comeback America Initiative in six weeks. Readers might question what comes next.
    With a $16 trillion debt and 700% inflation since 1965, it’s easy to question the prospects for our government because never in the history of mankind has such a debt been repaid.

    1. Local Eyes,
      It’s over $17 trillion in debt and over $70 trillion in total liabilities and unfunded promises at the federal level. In addition, CT has the highest liabilities and unfunded promises per taxpayer of any state and Bridgeport is over three times worse in that regard than Stockton CA, which is in bankruptcy. By the way, we don’t need to pay off the debt, we just need to get public debt/GDP down to a reasonable and sustainable level within the next 10-15 years so the interest won’t eat us up. I haven’t decided what comes next and I’m not in a rush to do so. Thanks for your interest.

  11. *** It’s about time, wonder who called them in for the investigation and just what exactly they’re looking for. This could get ugly or just pan out merely to not following city procurements concerning QPQ’s, etc… *** WE SHALL SEE! ***

  12. Paging Joel …
    Paging Joel …
    I was wrong. The dog did eat my bid specification package. Please read Bern Tardy’s lame-ass excuse about the lack of a published Bid Waiver.

    “The city’s procurement rules would have required Tardy to notify the council within five days of waiving competitive bidding for the driveway. But Tardy said around 2008 he sent a memo to all departments–and Mayor Bill Finch–explaining he no longer had the staff to issue those required internal alerts.”

    So for 5 years Bern Tardy and the Mayor have failed to issue written notifications of bid waivers. A city employee and the mayor decide that due to budget cuts they don’t have to follow city ordinances.

    “The ordinance does not give you an option,” said Council President Thomas McCarthy, D-133.

    So Council President McCarthy what is your council going to do? I believe the city can level daily fines for failing to adhere to ordinances.

    Let’s see how quickly Attorney Anastasi and Deputy Labor Director McCarthy claim there is nothing they can do.

    This is criminal. Every contract awarded via a bid waiver for which notice was not provided to the council should be declared null and void and the city should seek restitution from the illegally named contractor.

  13. This was a change made to the procurement ordinance due to the corrupt administration of Joe Ganim.
    And now the corrupt administration of Bill Finch has once again followed the Ganim playbook in order to quietly award contracts to FOB; Friends of Bill.

    1. Mojo // Aug 13, 2013 at 10:05 pm
      To your posting
      Yes, to the Finch/Wood offices. Next the CAO’s.
      And a next stop at Sherwood Forest.
      Then and only then … do you head to the City Attorney’s office.
      How does that strike you, Mojo?
      And congratulations on your decision to back your words with action.

    2. Mojo,
      As you know, the Mayor is the City’s CEO, is on the Airport Commission and is involved in key City Council matters. There is no way he can hide from this but others, including Tom McCarthy and Mark Anastasi, should be under the spotlight too.


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