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June 25, 2024

Wanda Geter-Pataky, 3 others arraigned in Bridgeport election case

TABIUS MCCOY / CT MIRROR Wanda Geter-Pataky entering Bridgeport Superior Court before her hearing in Bridgeport on Monday, June 24, 2024.

Wanda Geter-Pataky, a central figure in multiple Bridgeport election controversies, was arraigned Monday on charges related to Mayor Joe Ganim’s 2019 campaign.

Three others facing similar charges — Bridgeport city councilman Alfredo Castillo and campaign workers Nilsa Heredia and Josephine Edmonds — were also arraigned in Superior Court in Bridgeport on Monday.

Geter-Pataky quietly left out a side door of the courthouse without commenting after a brief appearance. As a condition of her release, she was ordered not to have any contact with a witness in her case.

Castillo, Edmonds and Heredia also appeared before Judge William Holden. The cases were transferred to the judicial district court on Main Street, where more serious cases are heard. They are all set to appear July 10. All were ordered by the judge to not contact the witnesses against them.

While Geter-Pataky and her attorney, John R. Gulash, left without commenting, Bridgeport attorney Samantha Kretzmer, who represented Castillo, held a press conference and said her client is “looking forward to a trial” and called his arrest a “political ploy.”

“He adamantly denies all of these allegations, and he is looking forward to the truth coming out before a jury,” Kretzmer said.

Heredia’s attorney, Ken Krayeske, said his client was a “patsy” and questioned why his client, with an eighth-grade education, was arrested and Ganim was not.

“I make no comment at this point about my client’s guilt or innocence or anything like that,” Krayeske said. “What I’m concerned about is there’s electoral fraud that appears to have happened, and instead of going after the person who benefited most from the electoral fraud, the state is going after one of the lowest-level people who worked on the campaign.”

The Chief State’s Attorney’s office charged all four defendants with unlawfully possessing another person’s absentee ballot, along with a variety of other election-related charges stemming from the 2019 primary between Ganim and his Democratic challenger, Marilyn Moore.

Geter-Pataky, Edmonds and Heredia are also charged with witness tampering, a felony.

Castillo, Heredia and Geter-Pataky all supported Ganim in the 2019 primary for mayor. Edmonds worked for the Moore campaign.

All four turned themselves in at a state police barracks earlier this month, and all of them were released on written promises to appear in court Monday.

The charges against the political operatives come more than four years after the primary between Ganim and Moore ended in a lawsuit and widespread allegations of absentee ballot fraud.

It took the State Elections Enforcement Commission three years to investigate the complaints about that primary and to refer the case to the Chief State’s Attorney for potential criminal charges. It then took the office another year to substantiate that investigation and to file the charges in state court. 

Bridgeport’s 2023 Democratic primary for mayor also led to widespread accusations of ballot tampering after Geter-Pataky and several other people were captured on surveillance footage depositing stacks of absentee ballots into drop boxes in the city. 

That evidence prompted a state Superior Court Judge to overturn the results of that primary, which Ganim won on the strength of absentee votes.

Geter-Pataky was called as a witness at that civil trial and refused to answer questions about her actions during the 2023 primary. She pleaded the Fifth Amendment against incriminating herself 71 times at the civil trial.

Gulash also represented her at the civil trial. He has refused to comment on any of the allegations against Geter-Pataky and did so again Monday.

Video surveillance footage allegedly shows Geter-Pataky and former city councilwoman Eneida Martinez delivering documents to ballot drop boxes that were used in the lead-up to the Sept. 12 election.

Martinez, who was reelected to the city council as Castillo was in 2023, was not part of the 2019 investigation by state officials. She also appeared at the civil trial last October and refused to answer questions, citing the Fifth Amendment as well.

‘I don’t touch none of that stuff’

Affidavits obtained by The Connecticut Mirror accuse the four political operatives of a variety of crimes.

Some of the charges are related to the political operatives not maintaining paperwork about which voters they distributed absentee ballot applications to or failing to sign the applications they helped people to fill out.

The more serious charges, however, stem from allegations that all four assisted voters in filling out their actual ballots or that they illegally took possession of those ballots once they were completed.

In Connecticut, the only people who can legally deliver an absentee ballot on behalf of another voter are direct family members, police officers, local election officials or someone who is directly caring for someone who receives an absentee ballot because they are ill or physically disabled. The voter has to appoint those people as their designee.

Castillo’s case centers around a complaint that was filed by Kadeem Graham, who lived in Castillo’s city council district. Graham told SEEC investigators that Castillo assisted him in requesting an absentee ballot in the summer of 2019 and that when the absentee ballot arrived, Castillo came to his house and took it.

Even more, Graham told investigators that he never had the opportunity to fill out the ballot.

When interviewed by investigators, Castillo initially denied knowing Graham and he claimed he never provided Graham with an application for an absentee ballot.

When investigators produced a copy of Graham’s application for an absentee ballot, Castillo admitted it was indeed his handwriting that filled out portions of that form. But Castillo, who has served in the Bridgeport city council since 2013, continued to deny that he handled Graham’s actual ballot.

“Not me. I didn’t take no absentee ballot. I don’t do that,” Castillo told investigators, according to the affidavit. “I don’t touch none of that stuff … He didn’t give me no ballot.”

The allegations against Geter-Pataky, who was recently reelected as the vice chair of the Bridgeport Democratic Town Committee, are similar in nature.

The affidavit filed in her case revolves around an absentee ballot submitted by April Keitt, who had known Geter-Pataky for 10 years.

Keitt told investigators that Geter-Pataky came to her house and assisted her in filling out an application to vote absentee and that when the ballot eventually arrived, Geter-Pataky returned to pick up the completed ballot.

Geter-Pataky admitted that she helped Keitt to fill out an application for a ballot. But she repeatedly denied taking Keitt’s ballot.

When the arrests were announced earlier this month, Moore said she was glad to finally see criminal charges filed over the 2019 mayoral primary, which she lost by 270 votes. 

She added she was deeply disappointed by the allegations against one of her former campaign staffers.

“For me, it doesn’t matter who did it,” Moore said. “If you did it, it’s wrong. I don’t care whose campaign you are in or who you are helping. Wrong is wrong. And I would hope that they are all treated equally.”

“If I had known that, I would have nipped it in the bud right away,” Moore said. “I believe in right and wrong, strongly. I would not have tolerated it if I had known.”

Moore blamed the continued problems with absentee voting in Bridgeport on the culture in the city and the cutthroat nature of local political campaigns.

“It is a culture, and it is what people have grown up with in Bridgeport,” Moore said.

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