Published September 15. 2010 1:33PM Updated September 15. 2010 5:35PM
Madison — Members of the Madison Police Department's Criminal Investigation Division arrested a well-known local Republican Tuesday, charging him with calling in a bomb threat on Sept. 12 to disrupt the Madison Republican Party's Sunday afternoon political fundraiser. Charged was James Byrne, 70, of 34 Hotchkiss Lane. He is an attorney and former member of the town's Planning and Zoning Commission.
Police charged Bryne with threatening in the first degree, falsely reporting an incident and breach of the peace. He was released on a written promise to appear in Superior Court in New Haven on Sept. 28.
"I give the police a lot of credit," Republican Town Chair Tom Banisch said. "They had identified the caller within 24 hours. By Monday night I was standing in the police department looking at the surveillance film in order to verify an ID."
The Republican fundraiser was taking place at Banisch's home on the Boston Post Road on Sunday. At approximately 4:35 p.m., a call to Police Headquarters specified a bomb threat at the Banisch residence. Madison police called in the Connecticut State Police Bomb Squad, moved immediately to evacuate the home and the nearby area, and shutdown surrounding streets, including portions of Route 1, Copse Road and Island Avenue.
"We had an event filled with people, almost every Republican candidate for state and local office was there with the exception of (Gubernatorial candidate) Tom Foley. (U.S. Senate candidate) Linda McMahon was there, (Congressional candidate) Janet Peckinpaugh, Martha Dean, Jerry Farrell, our state senate and state representative candidates were there," Banisch said. "Unfortunately, the roadblocks and the news of the bomb threat kept some local supporters away."
Police, using a bomb-sniffing dog, were able to canvas and inspect the house and property within about an hour and the threat was declared false.
Sources said police were able to identify the source of the call as a pay phone at Wal-Mart in Guilford where surveillance cameras allegedly caught Byrne on tape parking his car, walking into the store, approaching the pay phone, putting on gloves and then picking up the receiver to make a call. After completion of the call, Bryne allegedly wiped down the phone. The surveillance cameras were able to follow him back to his car and capture the license plate number.
Byrne is an attorney with a practice in Hartford. For several years he served as an alternate and then as a full member of the Planning and Zoning Commission. The Board of Selectmen failed to reappoint him to a full membership recently, although he was recommended by the Republican Town Committee. Reportedly, Byrne, who at times has been an outspoken critic of both Republican and Democratic town officials, chose not to seek re-election to the Republican Town Committee.