State's Attorney looking into Trumbull party case

BRIDGEPORT — The state is now reviewing evidence from a weekend birthday bash in Trumbull whose politically connected host bragged that he had hundreds of guests — including some present and former city officials.

State’s Attorney Joseph Corradino said the party, which broke coronavirus rules and is costing host Danny Pizarro a $500 fine, was being thoroughly investigated.

“We are in a crisis the likes of which we have not seen in over a century,” Corradino said in a statement to The Connecticut Post Wednesday, referring to the global pandemic. “My duty as a state constitutional officer obligates me to protect the public safety of the people in my district. The spread of COVID-19 threatens that safety.”

Last Saturday night, Trumbull police officers, responding to an anonymous tip about multiple parked cars causing a traffic hazard, shut down a crowded 48th birthday party hosted by Pizarro at his Huntington Turnpike home.

Pizarro, who works for Bridgeport and owns $5.78 million worth of multi-family and downtown business properties in the city, was issued a $500 fine by police Monday evening for violating Gov. Ned Lamont’s executive order capping private indoor social gatherings at 25 people.

Although authorities have not stated how many guests were present, Pizarro in an interview Sunday boasted to The Post that he had around 300 with a tent to provide extra room.

Corradino did not specify what further punitive action could be taken, although Lamont’s executive order allows attendees at pandemic rule-breaking events to be penalized $250 each. According to the state, there has only been one other $500 fine and two $250 fines issued since Lamont’s September order.

“We are reviewing all of the available evidence to determine whether any additional enforcement actions can be taken and proven to the exacting standards of the criminal law,” Corradino said. “Our rules of ethics prevent us from commenting directly on a pending investigation.”

Earlier Wednesday, the Trumbull police department denied The Post’s request for uniform and cruiser camera recordings of the response to Pizarro’s residence, stating that the information had been turned over to Corrandino’s office.

“They’re taking this seriously,” Sgt. George Floridia said.

Pizarro’s attorney, Dennis Bradley, a state senator from Bridgeport, said Wednesday he was unaware of the State’s Attorney’s interest and that Pizarro had faced the maximum legal penalty as far as he knew.

“I think the $500 fine is a hefty fine. He’s received that,” Bradley said, adding that anything more, such as criminal prosecution, “would seem a little Draconian and heavy-handed.”

He reiterated Pizarro’s defense that he had had a “lack of information in terms of what private residents can do in their own residences” and that his client had fully cooperated with Trumbull police.

Online videos of the bash, which Pizarro publicly posted on Instagram last weekend — an account he has since made private — captured a crowd dancing and drinking indoors. The majority of those guests were not wearing masks or apparently standing six feet apart, which are measures health experts and the governor’s office have insisted be followed in public and in private during the health crisis.

Pizarro on Sunday said he thought Lamont’s COVID-19 orders only applied to restaurants and other businesses, which face much steeper, $10,000 fines, not to private homes.

Regardless, Pizarro at the time also said he was not concerned about being exposed or exposing others to the illness at his party: “I’m not worrying about it. ... Those that came, everybody knows COVID exists. (That) there’s a pandemic. ... But they choose to come and not worry about that. Me, myself, frankly, I’m not worried.”

On Tuesday, Bradley called the event “an error and what’s now, in retrospect, a lapse in judgment” but said his client had asked guests to be tested for coronavirus ahead of time. Bradley said Pizarro would pay the $500 penalty.

The state Department of Public Health has said that it initially relies on local law enforcement and municipal health officials to enforce the governor’s COVID-19 restrictions.

Asked why his office was interested in the party, Corradino said Wednesday: “I take the threat of the COVID-19 virus seriously. Gov. Lamont has promulgated emergency orders with the intention of slowing the spread of this disease, safeguarding the lives of every resident, especially the most vulnerable. As the chief law enforcement officer of this district, it is my duty to carry out the law and assist the other state officials in combating this pandemic.”

Corradino was appointed the State’s Attorney for the Judicial District of Fairfield last spring after a 30-year career as a prosecutor.

Pizarro, meanwhile, is a familiar face as part of Bridgeport Democratic Mayor Joe Ganim’s political entourage and administration. He campaigned for Ganim in 2015, and the mayor appointed Pizarro to a municipal job in 2016. Pizarro’s responsibilities for the city have differed over the years, and he currently earns $81,000 with a position with the housing code office.

Kelvin Ayala is a downtown business owner who has worked with Pizarro on some of the latter’s recent property purchases in that neighborhood. The two have known each other for about 20 years. Ayala was invited to the party but did not attend, he said.

“He has his own style of unapologetic charisma (and) a big heart,” Ayala said Wednesday. “People gravitate to him.”

Ayala said Pizarro is “a guy who grew up in the neighborhood, has ties to the city and, despite successes, still has ties to the people in the neighborhood. ... I think his invite list was people he’s broken bread with, entertained, done business with, or just known for years. It’s the melting pot that is Bridgeport and he invited them to his Trumbull home.”

State Rep. Christopher Rosario, D-Bridgeport, and New Haven Health Director Maritza Bond, who held that same position in Bridgeport until January 2020, said they both were invited to the party.

Bond, in a statement Wednesday, confirmed she briefly swung by Pizarro’s house last Saturday: “I dropped off a gift to my former colleague’s home before dinner began and left well before many started gathering.”

Bond has been one of the key public figures in New Haven’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. Of Pizarro’s birthday bash she added, “I am deeply disappointed that people attended a large-scale gathering that potentially put their health at risk. I feel strongly about us advocating against these types of gatherings as we are still in the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Rosario in an interview Tuesday night said he took a ride-share to Pizarro’s around 11 p.m. and stayed about 45 minutes, catching another ride elsewhere with friends.

“I was there ever so briefly (and) I wore a mask,” Rosario recalled. “I extended my greetings and birthday wishes to the host and went on my way.”

He said he doubted Pizarro hosted 300 people even with a tent — “that’s a small house” — but admitted it got “busy” and he grew uncomfortable. Rosario said that Pizarro since the pandemic struck last March has hosted “gatherings that have been reasonable in size but following all the social distance guidelines.”

“It ballooned into something that was out of Danny’s control,” Rosario said. “It’s unfortunate what happened. We all make mistakes. I understand Mr. Pizarro apologized and lesson learned to everyone involved.”

On Sunday, Bridgeport City Hall said that any municipal employees who were at Pizarro’s home had to quarantine and receive COVID tests before returning to work. The Post previously interviewed one of those, Anthony Paoletto of the health department, who is also a former City Councilman.

Ganim’s office did not respond Wednesday to a request for the total number of workers quarantining after Pizarro’s party.