Amid FBI probe, of­fi­cial faces sex ha­rass­ment com­plaints

The News-Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Brian Lock­hart

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.

Gen­er­ous gifts

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.”

John Ricci

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