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4 charged with absentee ballot misconduct in 2019 Bridgeport election

FILE: In February, 2024, Bridgeport City Councilman Alfredo Castillo embraced another supporter of Mayor Joe Ganim as votes were tallied in Bridgeport’s re-do of the mayoral election. “We got out the vote,” Castillo said.
Ryan Caron King
/
Connecticut Public
FILE: In February, 2024, Bridgeport City Councilman Alfredo Castillo embraced another supporter of Mayor Joe Ganim as votes were tallied in Bridgeport’s re-do of the mayoral election. “We got out the vote,” Castillo said. Castillo, Wanda Geter-Pataky (second from left, with Ernie Newton), and two others were charged with election related offenses.

Four campaign workers are facing charges of misuse of absentee ballots in connection with Bridgeport’s 2019 mayoral primary election, including a high-ranking member of the city’s Democratic Town Committee.

Chief State’s Attorney Patrick J. Griffin announced Tuesday that inspectors from his office arrested the four on charges of unlawful possession of absentee ballots and other election-related criminal offenses.

Those charged include Wanda Geter-Pataky, the vice chairwoman of the Bridgeport Democratic Town Committee, and Alfredo Castillo, a member of Bridgeport’s city council, along with campaign workers Josephine Edmonds and Nilsa Heredia, according to Griffin’s office.

“Integrity of our voting process is vital to our democracy,” Griffin said in a written statement. “I appreciate the attention and time the Statewide Prosecution Bureau put into these investigations. I hope these prosecutions will send a message that deters tampering with election results in the future in Connecticut.”

The four defendants are scheduled to appear in Bridgeport Superior Court on June 24. A lawyer representing Geter-Pataky did not immediately respond to requests for comment. It was not immediately clear whether the other defendants had hired legal representatives.

News of the arrests comes more than four years after Bridgeport’s closely-contested 2019 mayoral race, in which incumbent Mayor Joe Ganim was reelected to another term.

However, allegations of absentee misconduct prompted an investigation by the State Elections Enforcement Commission, which referred the case to the state’s top prosecutors after conducting a probe that lasted more than three years.

In the interim, allegations of election misconduct surfaced again in Bridgeport, this time garnering national attention. A judge ordered the city to redo its 2024 mayoral election after a video surfaced that appeared to show Geter-Pataky stuffing papers into a ballot drop box.

An investigation into the video is still underway. The charges announced Tuesday pertain only to the race four years earlier.

During that 2019 race, Geter-Pataky is accused of failing to disclose that she filled out an absentee ballot application on behalf of a prospective voter, and also of misrepresenting the eligibility requirements for voting absentee by telling a voter not to vote in person, according to Griffin’s office. Investigators allege Geter-Pataky later told the same person not to talk to anyone about the matter.

Castillo is also accused of failing to disclose that he assisted a voter with an absentee ballot application. Prosecutors say Castillo denied doing so when he was deposed during the SEEC’s civil probe in October 2021, but later admitted to filling out portions of the application. Castillo is also accused of misrepresenting eligibility requirements.

Citing court records, Griffin’s office said in its announcement that Heredia also misrepresented eligibility requirements, and instructed people on which candidate to select on their absentee ballots.

Edmonds was allegedly present when four prospective voters filled out their absentee ballots, a violation of Connecticut law, and collected the ballots from the voters, according to Griffin’s office. Prosecutors say Edmonds also told one of the voters “not to testify truthfully in court that the defendant had gone to her home and left with the absentee ballots,” according to Griffin’s office.

Castillo and Edmonds are additionally accused of failing to maintain absentee ballot distribution lists. Heredia is accused of failing to submit a ballot distribution list to the city clerk’s office.

Three of the defendants supported Ganim in the election, while Edmonds backed his opponent, Marilyn Moore.

In a statement released Tuesday, Ganim said he has no knowledge of the case.

“We only learned through the media that individuals from both 2019 mayoral primary campaigns have been charged with election violations. We have not been provided with any details other than what is contained in media reports," Ganim said.

Moore told Connecticut Public that she doesn't condone the alleged conduct.

"It's not something that I encouraged or fostered, or was the norm in my campaign," she said. "But for the other campaign, it was a norm for people to do that."

Tara Chozet, communications director for Secretary of the State Stephanie Thomas, said in a statement that officials in her office are hopeful legislative tweaks made earlier this year will speed up future election misconduct investigations, including the ongoing probe into the 2023 Bridgeport election.

“We’re encouraged by the progress in this case," Chozet said, referring to the charges announced Tuesday, "as accountability is vital for maintaining trust in our election system."

Jim Haddadin is an editor for The Accountability Project, Connecticut Public's investigative reporting team. He was previously an investigative producer at NBC Boston, and wrote for newspapers in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.
Bria Lloyd joined Connecticut Public as an investigative reporter for The Accountability Project in November 2022. She’s also the co-host of the station’s limited series podcast, 'In Absentia'.

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