September 13, 2012
By ANDY THIBAULT
and DANIELA FORTE
Mary Badaracco. Contributed photo.
Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of new stories on the case of Mary Badaracco
A sitting Superior Court judge from Goshen will face cross-examination as a criminal complainant in the upcoming trial of Dominic Badaracco, identified as a prime suspect in one of Connecticut’s longest-running missing persons cases.
Mr. Badaracco, 76, stands accused of bribing Judge Robert Brunetti in an attempt to influence grand jury proceedings surrounding the killing of his ex-wife Mary 28 years ago. Although no body was ever found, State Police reclassified the Sherman case as a homicide in 1990.
The bribery trial has been moved from the New Britain Judicial District—where Judge Brunetti currently is assigned—to Middletown, according to lawyers connected with the case and a new posting at the Judicial Department Web site. A pre-trial meeting in chambers on administrative issues was scheduled for Sept. 13 in Middletown.
The pending cross-examination of a sitting judge is unusual in Connecticut. Prominent Hartford appellate attorney Wesley Horton, author of a scholarly book on the Connecticut Constitution, characterized the situation as “unique.”
A series of phone calls from Mr. Badaracco and his former business partner Ronald “Rocky” Richter to Judge Brunetti is detailed in the arrest warrant. Judge Brunetti was a longtime friend or associate of both men and legal counsel to their business before he became a judge in 2002. They also played golf together.
“Rocky, Brunes … ,” Judge Brunetti said in a call to Mr. Richter Dec. 2, 2010. “Hey listen, I found out some information … is Dominic around there?” This call was taped by State Police following a meeting with the judge and investigators in Litchfield.
Mr. Badaracco came on the line. Among his responses to Judge Brunetti are: “What,” “Huh,” and “I don’t understand ya.”
“There may be somethin’ I can do for you,” Judge Brunetti continued, according to the State Police transcription. “I wasn’t sure I could, but there may be somethin’ I can do, to help you out.”
To which Mr. Badaracco allegedly replied, “OK.”
In one of the prior calls, made to Judge Brunetti’s home, prosecutors claim Mr. Badaracco told Judge Brunetti: “I’m only gonna say this one time … it’s worth a hundred G’s.”
The prior calls were not taped. In the taped call, which includes several unintelligible sections, the parties agree to a meeting that never took place.
High-powered teams of prosecutors and defense lawyers are expected to battle over the credibility of the witnesses.
The prosecution team is led by Deputy Chief State’s Attorney Len Boyle, a former federal prosecutor and State Police commissioner. Mr. Boyle is joined by Executive Assistant State’s Attorney Michael A. Gailor, who successfully prosecuted former Hartford Mayor Eddie Perez on corruption charges.
Longtime Bridgeport white collar defense attorneys Richard Meehan and Edward Gavin represent Mr. Badaracco. Mr. Meehan and Mr. Gavin represented former Bridgeport Mayor Joseph Ganim in his federal corruption trial nine years ago.
“When you try a case against Rich Meehan,” former U.S. Attorney Stan Twardy told Connecticut Magazine at the time, “you’re in for a fight. But it’s an old-fashioned fight. You can still talk to him afterward.”
Mr. Badaracco has pleaded not guilty, and Mr. Meehan has asserted he is innocent.
State Police claim Mr. Badaracco transferred funds to obtain more than $100,000 two days before the alleged offer to Judge Brunetti.
Mary Badaracco was 38 years old when she disappeared in 1984. At the time, her car, a 1982 Chevrolet Cavalier, remained in the driveway of the Badaraccos’ home in Sherman. The driver’s side of the windshield had been smashed. That car subsequently disappeared as well, and State Police have been unable to find it.
The grand jury looking into the Badaracco case heard 62 witnesses in 2010 and 2011. The report by Judge William Hadden did not call for any arrests and was sealed. This type of grand jury—known as a one-person grand jury—has been used sporadically in Connecticut in recent decades as a fact-finding tool for difficult cases involving corruption. It was used often in the 1970s and 1980s by then Chief State’s Attorney Austin McGuigan, who lost his job after convicting two cabinet members in the administration of Gov. Bill O’Neill.
The grand jury has subpoena power and compels witnesses to testify under oath.
Mary Badaracco’s daughters —Beth Profeta of Torrington and Sheryl Passaro—have been critical of prosecutors for what they say is a failure to pursue perjury and other charges. They enlisted the aid of the state’s victim advocate, attorney Michele Cruz, who has a pending motion to obtain sealed testimony.