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Grasso threatens Norwalk homeowners association

Diane Lauricella represents the Village Creek Homeowners Association at Tuesday’s Norwalk Common Council meeting in City Hall. Listening, from left, are Common Council members Mike DePalma (D-District D) and Steve Serasis (D-District A).

Correction, April 26: Colin Hosten.

NORWALK, Conn. – Norwalk citizens have been threatened by a lawyer for speaking out at public meetings.

An attorney representing The Grasso Companies sent an intimidating email Tuesday to the Village Creek Homeowners Association, VCHOA President Colin Hosten said at Tuesday’s Common Council meeting. The attorneys ordered the group to “immediately cease and desist with further improper efforts to undermine Grasso’s business,” according to Diane Lauricella.

“I am self conscious because of an email I received from the applicant’s attorney here today instructing me to refrain from addressing the Common Council,” Hosten said, standing at the lectern in the Council chambers at the beginning of the meeting. “The effect of the letter was intimidating but really not as intimidating as the thought of a city contractor choosing to interact with Norwalk residents in such a threatening way. I think that alone tells you all you need to know about the kind of company you are dealing with here.”

Multiple Village Creek residents, though not Hosten, have spoken at previous Council meetings to ask that the city not award a paving contract to The Grasso Companies LLC. Grasso was given the $3.4 million contract in April.

The rub here is that the residents were complaining about Zoning violations by The Original Grasso Construction; The Grasso Companies is a separate entity, owned by Joe Grasso, Jr., not his father, who has been the recipient of many complaints.

The Grasso Companies LLC was on the Council agenda Tuesday for an $827,000 contract to do concrete sidewalks and curbs in various locations.

Lauricella, who is working as a consultant to the Village Creek Homeowners, did most of the talking about the threatening email. She began by asking the Council to deny the contract or to table it back to the Public Works Committee.

“I think that the right of citizens to express their opinion about vendors that are utilizing and will be paid by public funds is sacrosanct. I know most of the Council believes that. I ask that your actions match what I know that your hearts and minds you believe in, if that was you,” Lauricella said.

She said she was authorized by the Association to read a portion of the letter, which she called, “a bullying tactic to scare people silent.”

“Joe Grasso Jr. and Grasso have made significant efforts to fortify relationships with neighbors and the community,” the letter began, going on to say that Joe Grasso Jr. has offered to speak to citizens personally, according to Lauricella.

“‘It has come to our attention that the Village Creek Homeowners Association, otherwise known as VCHOA,’ which is an acronym, ‘led or instigated by outside interests that are not even homeowners or association members is utilizing your resources and organization of the VCHOA to take action that may constitute tortuous or intentional interference with Grasso’s business relationships and contracts by making false and unsupported statements to the Mayor and the Common Council,’” Lauricella said, reading the letter to the Council.

The letter, according to Lauricella, alleged that Grasso’s private clients have leveraged lower prices from the company by referencing the press coverage of the disparaging comments.

“VCHOA is fabricating a smear campaign to put political pressure on Norwalk’s Common Council to deny Grasso public contracts,” the letter continued, according to Lauricella. “You are intentionally organizing members to voice concerns with Grasso, notwithstanding the fact that the members have suffered no harm or damages and lack any personal knowledge of the veracity or truth of what they are representing. We believe this is actionable.”

Lauricella said that the attorneys quoted a sentence from a mailer that went to Village Creek residents this weekend: “There is still time for people to be heard with phone calls, letters and attendance at the Common Council meeting this Tuesday, 7:30, during the public participation of the meeting.”

Lauricella’s account of the letter went on:

“I would remind you that in Connecticut a ‘tortuous interference with business relations claim’ simply requires the existence of a business relationship, an intentional and improper interference with that relationship, and a resulting loss of benefits with the relationship. Consider this email correspondence formal notice to immediately cease and desist with further improper efforts to undermine Grasso’s business. If you have further issues or complaints you can contact Joe Grasso Jr. as he has offered. However, we will not tolerate false and misleading testimony from your association and we are prepared to take steps to protect Grasso’s legal interests.”

She went on to express her own opinion, not reading from the letter.

“This kind of tactic speaks a lot to the city’s ability not only to vet and have the discretion of a responsible bidder, but if you approve this tonight I ask that we have an immediate investigation of why you have been told that you have to approve this tonight,” she said.

The Council unanimously voted to table the contract to the next Council meeting, without comment.

Council President John Igneri (D-District E) explained why after the meeting.

“The recent development of the letter from their lawyer to the Village Creek Association raised questions that we didn’t have answers to. So we decided to send it back to counsel, the next Council meeting, so we can get answers,” he said.

Lauricella declined to forward the attorney’s email to NancyOnNorwalk, saying that the homeowners association had not authorized it.

One Village Creek resident spoke to the Council in opposition to the sidewalk contract.

“We have had more noise violations in early morning hours,” Teresa Petersen said, qualifying the account with an assertion that police don’t always issue tickets.

“It’s been several times since the last contract was awarded,” she said.

Those complaints stem from the company owned by Joe Grasso, Sr., a source said.

Department of Public Works Director Bruce Chimento said after the meeting that there have been no complaints against The Grasso Companies LLC since the paving work began.

Deputy Zoning Inspector John Hayducky said on June 6 that there have been no new zoning violations on Grasso Jr. since the paving began.

Comments

4 responses to “Grasso threatens Norwalk homeowners association”

  1. Debora Goldstein

    The question becomes how Mr. Igneri could know that “we” didn’t have enough information, if the tabling was done without comment. And why the only comment made was to the press afterward.

    If this was discussed in caucus, and it appears that it was decided there too, then council members should have also spoken to the vote in Chambers so the public would know what led to the decision.

    The record of this meeting down the line will show nothing of the “why” of this decision, unless read in conjunction with a newspaper.

    And the current administration wonders why the public thinks there is no transparency to their decisions…

  2. Rick

    sounds like the next Quintard ave meeting there should be a police detail and a lawyer for the residents.This trend of treating the taxpayers like […] now has extended beyond our own council in city hall.

    Its now become apparent the two political operatives who live on the other side who cant find anything wrong with meadow st businesses are also arrogant while posing as community activists on the power plant.

    I was told while protesting city money going for absurd studies to leave lajoies alone they gave money to the association for studies.

    MAYBE ITS TIME EVERYONE KNOWS WHAT TEAM SOME OF OUR TAXPAYERS ARE PLAYING ON.

    I met people in Village creek at their last city hall meeting they voted in two operatives how sad.

    This trend should’t surprise anyone ,now that the stakes are high on all projects in the city .

    Prime example is the the Wall St Journal tues June 13 headlines are Malls of the future will have no stores.

    Im not sure if Norwalk makes people look stupid or city hall makes people in Norwalk look stupid.
    This comment has been edited in accordance with the comments policy, which prohibits vulgar language

  3. Debora Goldstein

    Do municipal contracts going out to bid require a company to be open a minimum number of years? have an number of years doing municipal contracts?

    If so, and if the city is taking the position that this Grasso company is not the same as the previous Grasso company, then I hope that the New Grasso company isn’t laying claim to the prior company’s years of service, and is being treated like any other newly formed LLC with no prior “experience” with municipal contracts.

    The son may not be required to pay for the sins of the father, but he also should not be able to have it both ways. To be clear, I haven’t looked at the bids myself, but am making the point that I hope somebody did.

    To my eye, it seems unusual for a brand new company to win so many municipal contracts.

  4. diane c2

    @Debora, excellent point, and perhaps not that unusual in Norwalk for relatively new companies to get lucrative contracts – certainly worth looking into. Maybe even more disturbing are single-source contract awards. Or worse, the infamous “fill in the blank” for contractor name and bid amount Committee approvals that don’t even provide the Common Council members themselves the opportunity to vet bidders, much less we pesky taxpayers.

    This is all-time low however, with a contractor intimidating homeowners. And then for the Council to “table”, rather than return to Committee, just means a kick down the road without gaining any more insight at the Public Works Committee level, which would be under the watchful eye of the public and press.

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