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State finds no merit to bribery allegation against Griswold first selectman

By Greg Smith

Publication: theday.com

Published October 16. 2013 7:00PM   Updated October 16. 2013 9:53PM

Griswold — The New London County State's Attorney's Office has determined that allegations of bribery against Democratic First Selectman Philip Anthony are unsubstantiated.

Anthony and his attorney, former Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz, made the announcement during a press conference Wednesday at Town Hall.

"I am pleased that these false allegations made by my political opponents have finally been put to rest," Anthony said.

As revealed at a public meeting recently by Kevin Skulczyck, Anthony's Republican challenger for the first selectman's seat, Anthony was the subject of a months-long investigation by a state police Major Crime Unit detective.

The investigation stems from a complaint that Anthony helped secure a lower demolition permit fee for a contractor in exchange for a lower cost on work on property he was considering buying in Lisbon.

Contractor Henry Castaldi of West Hartford-based Haz-Pros Inc. had come to Anthony in late December 2011 complaining that the assessed value of the property he was planning to demolish, the former Haven Health Care complex, was still at 2009 levels. A more recent revaluation had taken place, however, dropping the value of the vacant health care facility from more than $1 million to $209,000.

Because the release of the town's grand list had been delayed by a month, Castaldi would be paying about $16,800 in demolition permit fees. Instead of waiting a month for the new grand list, Castaldi asked that the permit be based on the new value, dropping the fee to less than $4,000.

Anthony said he directed Castaldi to Tax Assessor Leslie Kornosewicz and Building Official Peter Zvinglas because "I have no jurisdiction or power to change anything." Zvinglas was defeated by Anthony in the first selectman's race in the last election.

Castaldi paid the lower fee sometime in January.

Building department secretary Shannon Webster made a complaint against Anthony later that same month, claiming Castaldi said Anthony asked him to perform work on personal property in exchange for the lower permit rate.

Republican Selectman Donald Hill, a former state police trooper, performed some initial investigation on his own and eventually filed a complaint with the state's attorney's office.

Anthony, whom Bysiewicz said had cooperated with the police investigation without a lawyer, admitted to police that he had an exchange with Castaldi in the Town Hall parking lot and asked him to swing by a property for a possible estimate.

"I said, 'Make sure you sharpen your pencil,'" Anthony recalled.

Anthony said it was simply a statement he often uses when looking for a good price and in no way should have been confused with a bribe.

A state police report provided by Bysiewicz shows the state's attorney's office rejected any prosecution in the case, noting, "although the allegations made by the complainant and witnesses had been researched heavily, no corroboration could be founded with regards to Henry Castaldi's allegations... ."

Anthony said he thought the complaint was without basis from the start and felt the disclosure of the investigation was politically motivated.

"My opponents have attempted to use this investigation and disclose (it) weeks before the November election to attack me personally with the hope of winning their election," Anthony said.

A longtime business owner in town, Anthony said he and his family suffered, along with his reputation.

Reached Wednesday, Hill denied the complaint was politically motivated, saying that in his experience as an investigator with the state police, he found the allegation to be credible.

"I know these complaints can be made to make someone look bad when nothing took place," Hill said. "I wouldn't have pushed it if there wasn't some validity to the case."

Anthony said he felt "fully vindicated."

Castaldi, the contractor, and Skulczyck, Anthony's Republican challenger, could not be reached for comment.

g.smith@theday.com

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