Waterbury State's Attorney Under Scrutiny
For at least three months a federal grand jury has been investigating the relationship between Waterbury State's Attorney John Connelly and prominent Waterbury defense attorney Martin Minella to see if preferential treatment was provided to Minella's clients in exchange for free trips to Las Vegas.
A source familiar with the federal probe said FBI agents recently asked for about a dozen files on criminal cases prosecuted in Superior Court in Waterbury to see if Minella's clients received favorable treatment.
Minella was the defense attorney in about half a dozen of the cases and Connelly was personally involved in about three, the sources said.
Federal authorities also have obtained records showing that Minella paid for several trips to Las Vegas and the Naples, Florida area on which he was accompanied by Connelly and a friend of Connelly's, the sources said. The trips go back as far as 2004.
Two sources said Connelly says he repaid Minella in cash for the travel expenses.
Federal investigators learned of the travel expenses through a related investigation of an accountant working for Minella.
Minella, a partner in the law firm of Moynihan and Minella, handles a variety of criminal cases, including many drug cases. A review of Judicial Department records show that from 2006 to 2009 Minella's office had 489 criminal cases disposed of in the Waterbury judicial district, the sixth highest number by an attorney or law firm.
A source familiar with the case said federal investigators recently visited Connelly and asked about some cases that his office prosecuted. The source said there were 12 cases that the federal authorities asked about and that about half of those involved Minella's clients.
When contacted Wednesday, Connelly referred questions to his attorney, Hugh Keefe of New Haven.
"Despite the rumors, John is not the target of any grand jury investigation and continues to serve as the state's attorney for Waterbury,'' Keefe said Wednesday.
"John Connelly is one of the finest prosecutors and public servants in the history of the state of Connecticut. He has an unblemished reputation among judges, lawyers and other prosecutors and has had that for over 30 years,'' Keefe said.
U.S. Attorney spokesman Thomas Carson would not confirm nor deny the existence of a grand jury or an investigation into Minella or Connelly.
A source said Minella has already received a target letter from federal authorities, but said that case involves issues with Minella's tax returns and not necessarily his dealings with Connelly. Attorney Norm Pattis, who is representing Minella, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
In his 26 years as Waterbury state's attorney, Connelly has gained a reputation for being tough on crime, prosecuting several death penalty cases. Of the 11 men currently on death row, six were put there by Connelly. He also served as commissioner of Public Safety for nine months in 1998.
Connelly also has clashed with federal investigators before, during the case of former Waterbury Mayor Philip Giordano.
Giordano is serving a 37-year sentence in federal prison for sexually assaulting two pre-teen girls, 8 and 10-years-old, in his office. The evidence of the sexual abuse surfaced when federal agents investigating allegations of corruption against Giordano overheard phone conversations between Giordano and a prostitute. The prostitute provided young girls to Giordano.
Connelly was critical of federal authorities, who had been listening to conversations between Giordano and the prostitute about providing the girls for sexual favors for months, without doing anything. Federal investigators didn't realize how young the girls were until Giordano made a reference to the girl's ninth birthday party. They immediately shut down the corruption probe and arrested Giordano.
Connelly went ahead with his own case against Giordano charging with him six counts of first-degree sexual assault. Giordano pleaded guilty to the state charges and was sentenced to 18 years.