State Sen. Dennis Bradley Jr. of Bridgeport and former city school board chair Jessica Martinez, who once served as his campaign treasurer, could go on trial in federal court in Bridgeport as early as Wednesday on charges that they conspired to cheat the state’s public campaign financing program out of about $180,000.
Jury selection began Tuesday and will continue Wednesday morning. When the trial opens, the government’s case will turn on a party Bradley threw — at which he announced he was running for state Senate — at Dolphin’s Cove, a marina and restaurant on the city’s east side on March 15, 2018.
Bradley says the event was a customer appreciation event for clients of his law firm — at which he happened to reveal he was running for office. But federal prosecutors have said they have a battery of witnesses and evidence that will show Bradley, Martinez and others in the campaign altered campaign contribution records and misled state election regulators so that a pricey campaign kickoff wouldn’t block Bradley from obtaining public grants to pay for the rest of the race.
Bradley and Martinez are both accused of conspiracy and fraud charges in a case where a conviction could untrack his ambition to win the mayor’s office. Martinez is charged additionally with lying to the FBI and to the grand jury that handed down an indictment in the case a year ago.
The trial is in Bridgeport.
Records on file with the court and with state elections regulators show that, after the Dolphin’s Cove event, Bradley qualified for an $84,140 state campaign grant, which he used to win a Democratic primary in August 2018 in a district that includes parts of Bridgeport and Stratford. His application for another $95,710 taxpayer financed campaign grant to run in the general election was denied by the State Elections Enforcement Commission, which had begun an investigation based on a “Citizen’s Complaint” about the Dolphin’s Cove event.
Even without the second grant, Bradley bested his Republican opponent, winning 87% of the general election vote. The U.S. Attorney’s office is charging Bradley and Martinez in connection with both grants, arguing both were part of the same conspiracy to defraud the state campaign financing program, known as the Citizen Election Program.
The indictment suggests that Bradley and his campaign staff were knowingly breaking campaign finance laws within weeks of the Dolphin’s Cove event. In May 2018, he sent what apparently was intended to be an inspiring text message to Martinez and other staffers, promising that “through our continued faithfulness the brightest day will come.”
A staffer replied: “Don’t worry Dennis if you go to jail you are a lot cuter than (another convicted Bridgeport politician) — u will be ok and I’ll make sure ur commissary always has enough so you can make toilet wine and mufungo.” [Mufungo is slang for a dish made by prisoners using chips, ramen and rice.]
Federal authorities would not identify the politician whose name was deleted from the indictment.
The indictment refers also to text messages between Bradley and campaign volunteers in which one of the volunteers asks, “Wouldn’t that be illegal?” to call the Dolphin’s Cove affair a client appreciation event. The event had many trappings of a campaign kick-off, and staffers collected $430 in contributions from attendees, but altered dates on the donation cards.
“No it’s a BDK law group party,” Bradley replied.
In another exchange, a campaign volunteer asked a Bradley political consultant whether invitations should read, “Join us for a special announcement.” The consultant replied, “We can’t. It’s not supposed to be a campaign event.”
Later a campaign consultant asked Bradley in a text message, “How much was the bill for BDK last night? $10,000?” The indictment said Bradley responded “with a shushing emoticon” and the consultant answered “with laughing emoticons.”
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Over the year since the indictment, Martinez tried, but failed, to have her case severed from that of Bradley and tried separately.
Among other things, Martinez has said in court filings that she intends to defend herself by blaming Bradley. In addition to being her boss in the 2018 campaign, she said Bradley was her lawyer. She implies in her court filings that she got in trouble by following his advice.
When testifying at the grand jury that indicted her, Martinez denied that political contributions were collected at the Dolphin’s Cove event, which she said was an affair put on by Bradley’s law firm, BDK Law Group. The following questions and answers took place at the grand jury between federal prosecutors and Martinez in September 2020:
Q. OK. Let’s talk about Dolphin’s Cove quickly. You’re involved.
A. No. Dolphin’s Cove had zero to do with me and the campaign. Dolphin’s Cove was a BDK event, the law firm’s event, thanking the community, in which I knew state Sen. Bradley was going to announce his run for state Senate.
Q. You knew there would be fundraising there though, right?
A. There was no fundraising there. There was no fundraising there. But at any rate, I was not the treasurer yet. The campaign did not begin. That was a BDK event.