West Haven official OK’d contracts for family business


Robert Bruneau, a town councilman and hearth commissioner in West Haven, used his elected position as a chief of the West Shore Fireplace District to authorize contracts and payments for a business owned by his wife and son.

The documents reveal that Bruneau — along with his two fellow fireplace commissioners — permitted additional than $81,000 in payments to Bruneau’s Garage, which he and his family members have owned and operated for far more than a 10 years.

That dollars was reportedly paid to the garage in return for the enterprise repairing and protecting the hearth district’s plow truck, its rescue boat, its blue and white fireplace engines and the backup generators at its two hearth properties.

The invoices clearly show Bruneau’s son billed the fire district a flat cost of $1,500 for every thirty day period to cover labor prices and tens of hundreds of dollars additional to source belts, batteries, hydraulic hoses, brake pads, air filters, oil filters, drinking water pumps and door latches for the fireplace vehicles.

The information emphasize how Bruneau — who was also not too long ago singled out in a point out audit that examined questionable investing by the West Haven metropolis government — signed off on more than 50 percent of the 46 invoices that ended up submitted to the fireplace district about the past two yrs. That positioned him in a position where by he was verifying the areas and services that his family’s business enterprise was billing the fire district for.

As the chairman of the board of fireplace commissioners, Bruneau has significant impact in excess of West Shore’s $11 million yearly finances, and he allows to determine what contractors do company with the hearth district, which operates independently of the city federal government in West Haven.

Stephen Scafariello, the main of the West Shore Hearth District, explained Bruneau’s Garage was picked in July 2020 to keep the department’s fire engines and other tools subsequent a public bidding process. He said the enterprise was awarded the deal for the reason that no other organization responded to an ad that was positioned in the West Haven Voice, a hyper-local newspaper that is revealed every other week.

Nevertheless, ethics authorities explained Bruneau’s involvement in the contracts and the payments to his family’s enterprise signifies a direct conflict of desire, no make any difference how the procurement process worked or how quite a few businesses submitted bids.

“If you are signing invoices for issues involving your corporation or your instant family’s firm, which is a apparent conflict,” mentioned Peter Lewandowski, who serves as the government director of Connecticut’s Business office of Condition Ethics.

Lewandowski and the other staff members at the condition ethics office environment do not perform any part in imposing ethics rules within municipalities or any other area governments in Connecticut. But he claimed Bruneau’s actions would pretty much surely operate afoul of any ethics policies that are in area for the hearth district.

Point out, nearby and federal codes of ethics, Lewandowski said, all prohibit persons from making use of their authorities offices to get formal actions that benefit on their own or their spouse and children associates. So, much too, do quite a few company codes of conduct.

“That’s seriously ethics 101,” Lewandowski said.

Scafariello, the hearth chief, confirmed by way of e mail that the West Shore Fireplace District has an ethics code in place, but he and an attorney for the hearth district did not straight away present that coverage to the CT Mirror.

‘Business as normal’

Bruneau, who was very first elected as a fireplace commissioner in 2017 and has served as a West Haven town councilman given that 2020, reported he never ever saw that ethics code prior to the CT Mirror getting in contact with the hearth district this thirty day period, and he stated he didn’t know it was inappropriate for him to sign off on checks to his family’s business.

“I didn’t see nearly anything incorrect with it at the time, and now that it has arrive to our awareness, about an ethics condition, we would absolutely glance to do issues a minimal little bit in another way shifting forward,” he explained.

Bruneau reported he and his family members have worked on the hearth engines for the West Shore Hearth District for yrs — long prior to he was commissioner, back again to when he was serving as a superintendent with the division.

His family’s providers, he extra, have also performed perform for West Haven’s two other hearth districts and the city’s police division.

“It’s just some thing we have finished proper alongside,” he explained, “and my family has accomplished it for a long time, to be absolutely genuine with you. So when this came about and no one bid on it, I seriously just didn’t figure out that it would be a challenge. For us, it was just enterprise as usual.”

Bruneau explained none of the steps he took have been intended to be “underhanded,” and he mentioned he is “devastated” and “heartbroken” that everyone would question his motives or his family’s integrity.

“There was practically nothing — no intent right here — to get labored steered toward any family member whatsoever,” he reported. “I do a large amount for the law enforcement section. I do a ton for the fire division. It was by no means about funds. Which is the furthest detail to be concerned about for us due to the fact we do extra for nothing than we bill them for.”

“It was just an oversight. There was very little undermined by it,” he additional. “The only point I have at any time carried out is stress about the West Shore Fire Section and retaining the residents of the West Shore safe.”

Other elected leaders who signify West Haven inhabitants mentioned Bruneau’s final decision to indicator off on payments to his family’s small business cast the fireplace district in a bad mild and could more hurt the public’s rely on, which has already been examined in West Haven as the final result of an ongoing federal prison investigation.

“While I realize that the agreement went through the appropriate bid method, as an elected formal, you must not be concerned in any conversations or voting on contracts that are effective to you or your loved ones,” reported condition Rep. Dorinda Borer, D-West Haven. “Commissioners have to have to recuse by themselves from these actions in purchase to do away with any concern regarding the appropriateness of the approach.”

Condition Rep. Charles Ferraro, R-West Haven, voiced a identical view. And he argued that Bruneau required to make your mind up what is far more vital to him: his family’s firms or his elected offices.

“If you are likely to be in that placement, you need to have to know when to recuse your self,” claimed Ferraro, who represents most of the men and women who spend property taxes to the West Shore Fireplace District. “I never think the community likes hearing that people who are in positions to make contract decisions are awarding people contracts to relatives associates. I don’t believe folks want to listen to that.”

“You know, my view is you gotta make your mind up to either be a businessman or a politician,” Ferraro additional. “It’s both a single or the other, but you can’t be both.”

‘Accusations and scorn’

This is not the initial time that a enterprise owned by Bruneau and his spouse and children has captured the public’s interest in West Haven.

Bruneau, a two-term town councilman, also identified himself in the highlight in current months after community documents unveiled that town officers in West Haven employed federal pandemic reduction funding to pay Chip’s Wrecker Assistanceyet another a single of his family’s corporations — extra than $19,000.

That income, in accordance to the city’s information, was meant to compensate the organization for delivering foodstuff during the pandemic, for renting products to the city and for cleaning up soon after COVID-linked events.

But earlier this 12 months, a forensic audit commissioned by the condition Business of Policy and Management established that the money Bruneau’s enterprise been given was an ineligible use of the federal pandemic relief money.

The auditors argued that the invoices and other money documents applied to back up all those expenses did not present enough detail about what variety of perform Bruneau’s company performed in trade for the dollars.

Even far more, the audit proposed the state need to just take a nearer glance at other organization dealings that Bruneau had with the West Haven govt, which he has served to lead above the past two yrs.

The auditors produced that recommendation following the city’s monetary information discovered that a few organizations controlled by Bruneau experienced been paid at the very least $170,000 out of the city’s financial institution accounts in the earlier. Individuals payments, the auditors described, need to be reviewed in buy to figure out if they were being a “valid” use of taxpayer cash.

In reaction to the audit, Bruneau employed an attorney to defend his firms and his name, and in the course of a heated town council assembly in April, he experienced a letter from his attorney browse aloud to West Haven voters.

In the letter — which was addressed to the auditing business employed by the condition — the attorney stated all of the company transactions between the metropolis and Bruneau’s providers have been higher than board. And he argued that Bruneau’s organization history was “unimpeachable,” and his character “unblemished.”

“While you have not accused Mr. Bruneau of any criminal or moral wrongdoing, the innuendo is risky and unfair,” the letter read. “It has led to my customer owning been given accusations and scorn from article content in the newspaper and on social media.”

Absolutely nothing has been performed given that that time to additional examine Bruneau’s small business relationships with the metropolis govt in West Haven, though OPM and the state’s Municipal Accountability Critique Board (MARB) are in the course of action of ramping up their oversight of the city’s funds.

A spokesman for the condition company reported any conclusions with regards to more investigations into the city’s expending and funds would need to be authorized by the full MARB board.

“All issues that bear on the governance and fiscal administration of the city will be examined in due program and will be ruled by relevant legislation,” said Chris Collibee, OPM’s spokesperson.

Ferraro, the Republican lawmaker from West Haven, claimed he thinks further inquiries are warranted, thinking of the public distrust that proceeds to plague the town.

“The light-weight of working day demands to be shined on anything in the city of West Haven,” Ferraro explained. “I assume all the things should really be on the desk.”


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