Public works director diverted bricks to home, legal documents say
FAIRFIELD — Director of Public Works Joseph Michelangelo took pavers intended for the Richard White Way fill pile and used them to pave his driveway, front walk and sidewalk, according to transcripts from a closed-door arbitration hearing between the town and Julian Enterprises last month.
Julian’s attorney Daniel Cotter questioned Michelangelo about the pavers, accusing the town official of diverting the bricks — which originated at Lansdowne Condominiums in Westport — for projects at his personal home on Figlar Avenue.
In the transcript, Michelangelo said he arranged with a private contractor to have the pavers taken directly to his house.
Cotter claimed Michelangelo cost Julian money by taking the pavers, which could have either been sold individually or incorporated into the fill pile. Meanwhile, Michelangelo responded that he asked permission from George Patrick, the manager of the fill pile on behalf of Julian, before diverting the pavers away from the pile.
The July 8 hearing was an attempt to settle a yearslong civil dispute, when the town sued Julian for breach of contract regarding the fill pile. Seeking $3 million in damages, the town claimed the pile, which Julian was hired to reduce, nearly tripled in total height and volume. Hazardous material was also found at the location.
Soon after, Julian countersued the town for defamation. Both parties withdrew their lawsuits in November and agreed to go into arbitration instead of court. After petitions from Board of Selectmen and Board of Finance members to have the hearing moved back to public court were denied, the town promised to provide a court reporter present to produce a record of the hearing.
While no agreement was reached, the hearing gave both sides the chance to explain their key arguments, as well as bring in related evidence.
Michelangelo did not respond to a request for comment. According to the transcript, however, Michelangelo admitted in an earlier deposition that the pavers didn’t belong to him and in hindsight he shouldn’t have taken them.
First Selectman Michael Tetreau said Monday that Michelangelo should not have taken the pavers. He clarified, though, that Michelangelo did not take anything from the fill pile directly. Rather, he said, someone found out Michelangelo would be willing to take the pavers for free and decided to give them to him rather than pay Julian to process them at the fill pile.
“I don’t think it was the wisest move on Joe’s part to get involved in that, but it wasn’t town property,” Tetreau said.
The rest of the hearing was postponed after police raided Julian’s Fairfield office in pursuit of evidence that Superintendent of Public Works Scott Bartlett accepted bribes from the company. This is part of a separate criminal investigation that was launched around the same time as the town’s civil case.
The first two days of arbitration took place at the Bridgeport offices of the town’s lawyers Cohen and Wolf, before arbitrator Elaine Gordon. Ari Hoffman and Stuart Katz, of Cohen and Wolf, represented the town, while Daniel Cotter and Thomas Cotter from Cotter Law Firm were present as Julian’s attorneys.
Tetreau was present for both days of the arbitration, and Town Attorney Stanton Lesser was present for the first day.
In addition to Cotter’s questioning about the pavers, both attorneys questioned Michelangelo — called as a witness by the town — as to the details of Julian’s contract, its work at the fill pile and the town’s ultimate decision to shut down Julian’s operations there.
Following the conclusion of Michelangelo’s testimony on July 10, the town called as a witness Scott Leamon, Fairfield’s chief surveyor, who testified to the size of the fill pile. The town then brought forth Conservation Director Brian Carey to be examined regarding the discovery of PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) and lead at the fill pile and the remediation process that followed.
Throughout the hearing, the town’s attorneys continually emphasized the claim that Julian failed to reduce the size of the fill pile and allowed hazardous materials to be dumped there.
Julian’s attorneys, meanwhile, argued the the town knew all along that Julian would have to add additional material to the pile in order to generate a blend of marketable fill. Furthermore, they claimed, the town could not prove that the hazardous material found there came from Julian and not another entity, including the town itself.
The arbitration hearing will resume in September.