Amid FBI probe, official faces sex harassment complaints
BRIDGEPORT — Public Facilities Director John Ricci, whose department is embroiled in an FBI criminal probe, is now facing a pair of sexual harassment complaints from one current employee and an ex-staffer.
Maria Grace Goncalves and Lisa Miro filed cases against Ricci and the city with the state Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities. The CHRO is the mandatory first stop before complainants can pursue federal lawsuits.
The complaints, obtained by Hearst Connecticut Media, allege that Ricci offered Goncalves a private office to accommodate an illness and Miro a promotion from a temporary to full-time job, then turned on both when each refused to be his girlfriend.
“I was afraid to reject his advances too forcefully because he was so powerful in the workplace,” Goncalves told the CHRO.
Ricci is arguably one of the most influential men in
Bridgeport City Hall and in local politics. Besides being the public facilities chief, he is a behind-the-scenes campaign aide for Mayor Joe Ganim and a close friend of Democratic Town Chairman Mario Testa.
Separate rebuttals the city filed with the state, also reviewed by Hearst, portrayed Goncalves, 47, and Miro, 53, both single mothers, as the predators — and Ricci, who is in his mid-70s, their victim.
“Complainant routinely made advances toward Mr. Ricci and constantly pestered him about finding her a permanent position within the city,” Deputy City Attorney John Bohannon wrote the CHRO about Miro.
Bonnie Lambert, another public facilities employee quoted in the city’s response, said “Goncalves and Miro would vie for Ricci’s attention.”
The CHRO had scheduled a “fact finding” conference on Miro’s case last Wednesday, but it was postponed at the city’s request. Meanwhile, the City Council’s Miscellaneous Matters Committee on Monday will consider a settlement offer to Goncalves that, sources have said, totals $35,000 related to disability compliance, not sexual harassment, but includes a non-disclosure agreement over her harassment claims.
Ricci helped re-elect Ganim, who had been mayor in the 1990s, in 2015. Goncalves and Miro also volunteered for that campaign.
The returned mayor put Ricci, who has held various municipal positions since the 1970s, in charge of public facilities, a massive agency which oversees the maintenance of roads, city buildings, sidewalks, vehicle fleets and parks, along with trash hauling and recycling, recreational programs and the airport.
Ricci is generally well-liked and respected. But he was recently embroiled in a scandal involving the illicit sale of scrap metal by public facilities workers. Ganim took away four weeks of pay from Ricci as punishment. The FBI has
opened an ongoing criminal investigation into the scrap metal and questions about no bid municipal contracts
In a statement for this story, Ricci characterized Goncalves and Miro as disgruntled workers trying to retaliate.
“When Ms. Goncalves did not receive accommodation to her liking, she threatened to make a sexual harassment complaint against me,” Ricci wrote. “The situation with Ms. Miro is similar.”
And Rowena White, Ganim’s communications director, said, “There is no validity to the accusations regarding sexual harassment in both cases and ... they are without merit.”
Goncalves was hired March, 2017, in public facilities as a garage clerk, working out of the downtown government center with Ricci and others on his staff on the second floor. She is currently out on medical leave.
Goncalves told the CHRO that she suffers from a traumatic brain injury and asked Ricci “for a private office where I could control the level of lighting and sound.”
“Meanwhile, Mr. Ricci began to show a romantic interest in me,” Goncalves alleged. “We were friends, but I never treated him any differently than my other friends, nor did I suggest ... I was interested in a romantic relationship.”
Goncalves said after eventually agreeing to her request for a private first floor office, Ricci “asked me on a number of dates” and wondered “when we’re going to take it to the next level.” Goncalves also alleged Ricci in a text message wrote he was “so happy that you finally decided to be my girl.”
Goncalves said after she turned him down, Ricci canceled her office move. She filed a sexual harassment complaint against Ricci with the city’s Office of Labor Relations, which brought in law firm Berchem Moses to investigate.
The city forwarded a copy of the Berchem Moses probe to the CHRO. The firm interviewed Ricci, Lambert and 10 other public facilities or municipal staffers, most women, and found “overwhelming evidence” Goncalves “pursued
Ricci” and “absolutely no evidence” he pressured her for sex.
Ricci described their relationship in the Berchem Moses report as platonic close friends — “like a kid sister.” He admitted he assisted Goncalves with home renovations in 2017, charging her $3,000 when the bill was closer to $8,000; helped buy her daughter a computer; had a key to Goncalves’ home; and gave her a credit card in her name, linked to his account.
Meanwhile Goncalves provided Berchem Moses mobile phone text messages, including the one Ricci sent calling her “his girl,” in which Goncalves wrote to Ricci, “Love you, goodnight,” “Good morning hon, I’m going to stay home,” and “Thank you, my love!”
“Ricci volunteered that his relationship with Goncalves was a ‘very odd relationship’ but ... never remotely sexual,” said the report.
The city also maintained that Ricci decided against relocating Goncalves to the first floor for practical jobrelated reasons, but continued efforts to reasonably accommodate Goncalves’ disability before she left on medical leave.
Draped in gold
Ricci and Miro had been friends before Ricci found her a temporary seasonal position with the city’s Youth Services Department in June, 2016. That job lasted until September, 2017.
Miro told the CHRO that in April, 2016, Ricci allegedly texted her, “Really enjoy spending time with a mature, intelligent woman such as you. Hope you agree to spend time with me in the future. I need you in my life.”
Miro had worked for the city during the Finch administration and hoped the new temporary job, which was only supposed to last 120 days, led to something full time. She said Ricci made her believe that would happen.
“Mr. Ricci always talked about how he would find me a job paying about $60,000 and if I was with him, ‘I’d be draped in gold’,” Miro claimed to the CHRO. She alleged Ricci bragged to her how he paid for Goncalves’ home renovations “and got her on salary.”
Miro also alleged in her complaint that in June, 2017, while meeting Ricci at a restaurant to talk more about a full-time city position, he “reiterated his interest in me and said he would like to have me as his companion to go to the movies, dinner, cuddle.”
Miro said Ricci also invited her on a trip to Florida, while the city told CHRO it was the other way around.
And, at one point while the pair were volunteering for Ganim’s failed 2018 gubernatorial bid, Miro alleged that Ricci “looked me up and down” and “made a comment about ‘what he could do with that.’ ”
“The emotional stress of having the salaried job lingering over my head made me feel helpless and I didn’t know how to handle this situation,” Miro told the CHRO. “I evaded the come-ons.”