AFB settlement: Former facilities manager gets $20,000 from lawsuit

A January 2014 investigation launched by First Selectman Timothy Herbst into Bridgeport-based AFB Construction Management has resulted in a $20,000 settlement for former school facilities manager and Trumbull resident Al Barbarotta, who sued the town’s top official for “tortious interference” that caused him to lose a business deal with Trumbull Loves Children preschool.

After Superior Court Judge Michael Kamp denied Herbst’s lawyer’s motion for summary judgment on June 16 and pushed the case toward a trial, the parties negotiated outside of court and reached an agreement on Oct. 27 that the town’s insurance carrier would pay Barbarotta.

“Based on the foregoing, the defendant has not met his burden of proving the lack of a dispute as to any of the material facts that he acted with an improper purpose and without justification,” Judge Kamp wrote before the conclusion of his 35-page summary ruling.

The Fairfield District Superior Court judge added that Herbst “chose to interject himself into whom TLC would choose as its representative and he did not give advice, he ordered TLC to find a different contractor.”

“His justifications for his actions are not sufficient for the court to grant judgment as a matter of law,” he continued.

Barbarotta’s lawyer, Ed Scofield, spoke with The Times Monday and explained that the judge’s denial led to the parties’ decision to settle.

“The judge didn’t rule in favor of anyone,” said Scofield, who works at Zeldes, Needle & Cooper in Bridgeport. “What he said was that a jury should decide — that the evidence presented by Herbst’s lawyers was not sufficient enough to throw out my client’s claims.”

Herbst, who ordered the investigation into school building permits and projects handled by AFB, said Monday afternoon he was glad that the settlement came at no cost to the taxpayers.

“I think it says a lot that Mr. Barbarotta probably spent over $200,000 of his own money to settle a claim for $20,000 paid by an insurance carrier,” he told The Times. “I think it speaks to how his claim had absolutely zero merit and was politically motivated.

“I’m grateful that we’ve closed that very bad chapter, and it didn’t cost our taxpayers anything,” he added. “The school district is certainly better off for it and the safety for kids in those school buildings is much better off for it.”

Herbst said in January 2014 that he felt the investigation was necessary after media reports that AFB might not have followed proper oversight and inspections on a project in Stamford.

Graham Bisset, the town building official, sent a memo to Herbst Feb. 19, 2014, identifying 11 projects for which the building official said he had no records of permits or inspections and another six projects that needed inspections for a certificate of occupancy. The investigation delved into the past 10 years. Projects included items like a boiler replacement at Tashua, new bleachers at Madison Middle School, filling potholes, auditorium renovation at Trumbull High, and masonry repairs for the district.

“The $20,000 in insurance money that paid for the settlement pales in comparison to the million dollars we spent to have him remove snow off buildings, the $66 million we spent on a high school renovation that is fundamentally flawed, and the millions we paid him to remove asbestos from buildings that still have it,” Herbst said Monday.

“Every Trumbull resident should sleep well knowing that that nightmare is over and that he’s done doing business in Trumbull,” he added about the AFB settlement. “He took the taxpayers and the town of Trumbull for a ride for quite some time — to their detriment and to the town’s detriment.

“I’m glad it’s over and we’ve turned the page.”

Calling out Herbst

For his part, Barbarotta released a statement to The Times on Saturday, Nov. 7, regarding the settlement.

He said the first selectmen had interfered with his contract with TLC and used a variety of town resources to get the case thrown out.

“The judge could simply have denied his motion to dismiss but instead wrote a 30-plus page decision that basically there was enough evidence to proceed with our lawsuit against Tim,” Barbarotta said. “Basically, Tim feels he can break the law and get ammunition because he is the first selectman.

“Once again, he was wrong and the town’s insurance had pay off yet another mistake of Tim's.”

Moving forward

Herbst said the town has since moved forward with facilities director Mark Deming.

“Mark is doing a tremendous job,” the first selectman said. “In a year and a half, he’s done more than Al Barbarotta did in 30 years for our school system and our facilities.”

Similar to when he launched the investigation almost two years ago, Herbst pointed to Barbarotta’s ongoing case in Stamford, where local media reported that AFB may not have followed proper oversight and inspections on a school lighting project.

“It appears controversy seems to find him wherever he goes,” he said.

“I’m just glad we can move forward now,” he added.