Why's everyone looking at me like that?

Richard J. Bruno, 78, of Waterford was happy to see Richard A. Bruno Jr., 48, of Waterford sentenced and carted off to federal prison last month for his sexually deviant behavior. With the federal criminal Bruno in prison to serve a 16-year sentence, and so off the news pages and TV newscasts, perhaps the retired insurance agent and investment consultant Bruno will face fewer disapproving looks.

“Though they’re still coming up asking how I’m doing. How my son is doing,” he told me when we sat down.

The two Brunos are not related. And Richard J. Bruno has no sons.

Known to friends and associates as Dick Bruno, Richard J. Bruno has spent his adult life as a contributing member of the community. His now imprisoned namesake, no so much.

For 30 years, Dick Bruno was a partner in the Hedden Insurance Agency in Waterford. In 1995 he left and became an investment consultant for PaineWebber, which later merged with UBS. More recently, in semi-retirement, he has worked as a real estate agent.

Some know him from his work on the board of the B.P. Learned Mission of New London, which provides enrichment services to children from economically struggling families. But his passion was the theater.

Dick did some community theater and was active on the board of the Eugene O’Neill Theater in Waterford. Back in the 1970s and 1980s, when the theater hosted an annual awards dinner to recognize acting excellence in local community theater, he would serve as the master of ceremonies, prized for his wise-cracks, even the ones that produced groans.

“The ones that didn’t work were somehow funnier than the ones that did,” he recalled.

It was a good life. Still is. But it got weird the morning of May 6, 2016.

“I got a call at 8 in the morning from another Realtor and they said, ‘Have you seen the news?' She says, ‘Turn on the NBC channel in Hartford.’ I do and the scroll on the bottom during the news was ‘Richard Bruno of Waterford was arrested’ for molesting, or whatever,” he recalled. The report gave no age.

“And I’m thinking, ‘Holy s ---!’ All the people who know me. How many Richard Brunos can there be in Waterford, Connecticut? So that was the start. I’m just picturing all those people who had business or social dealings with me, thinking, ‘Jeez, that guy really went down the tubes, didn’t he.’”

The “whatever” that the other Bruno had been arrested for was criminal attempt to commit trafficking in persons, attempted second-degree sexual assault, risk of injury and impairing the morals of children and enticement of a minor.

The deviant Bruno was caught in a sting, communicating online with what he thought was a 13-year-old he had convinced to meet him for weird sex acts. It was a state trooper.

“The telephone calls started. ‘You OK?’ ‘Is that your son?’ ‘What’s going on?’ It was like a mini-nightmare,” Dick Bruno recalls.

Then things got weirder as Richard A. Bruno Jr., a plumber and landlord, kept popping back into the news. Because as police, including the feds, dug deeper they found more disturbing things. He had produced about four dozen porno videos, targeted vulnerable tenants in his apartments to comply with his demands, including coercing a 17-year-old to perform in a video, making it a federal crime.

This is not the sort of guy you want be confused with.

People who know him well, said Dick Bruno, knew it was not him. Close friends have ribbed him about it. It’s the people on the peripheral, who know him but not that well, who shoot the questioning looks and ask the awkward questions.

Dick Bruno said some of the real estate business he would get by word of mouth dried up. Whether it was connected to confusion with the criminal Bruno, he can’t know.

He called me a couple of times complaining of the situation. I found it interesting enough to write about, knowing other readers will relate with his story. But, as I told him, there is not much a news organization can do to avoid this sort of thing.

Perhaps he could have worn a sign: “No, that’s not me. And I don’t have a Bruno Jr.”

Paul Choiniere is the editorial page editor.

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