State Sen. Dennis A. Bradley’s federal trial on charges that he conspired to cheat the state’s public campaign financing program out of about $180,000 has been abruptly postponed by a dispute over the late disclosure by federal prosecutors of a key piece of evidence.
The evidence, according to court filings, is a 28-minute video recording that supports the central contention of the government case: that what Bradley claims was a private client party hosted by his law firm was actually a campaign kick-off and fundraiser for his 2018 state Senate race.
There was no indication late Friday when the trial could resume. Bradley was to be tried this week along with co-defendant Jessica Martinez, the former Bridgeport school board chair who was his campaign treasurer in 2018.
On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Victor Bolden ruled for the defense and said the prosecution can’t use the video recording as evidence after hearing arguments about who was responsible for the late disclosure and how it would leave the defense with no time to prepare.
Within hours, federal prosecutors filed papers saying they would immediately appeal Bolden’s ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit. It could take months to resolve the appeal.
Jury selection was underway but not completed at the time of Bolden’s ruling.
The suppressed video could have assisted the government’s case, which turns 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 witnesses and evidence that will show Bradley, Martinez and others in the campaign knew it was a campaign event and that they allegedly 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.
In a new court filing, federal prosecutors said the disputed video shows that Bradley and Martinez were present at Dolphin’s Cove when campaign volunteers solicited donations while carrying the appropriate State Election Enforcement Commission forms, party guests filled out contribution forms, and the party’s emcee announced over the loudspeaker that contribution forms were available.
Bradley and Martinez are both accused of conspiracy and fraud charges. 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.
Defense and prosecution filings in court show that the U.S. Attorney’s office knew by January 2020 that Bradley had hired videographers for the Dolphin’s Cove event. The videographers told investigators at about the same time that they had about 2 hours of unedited video of the event and a 13-minute, edited clip.
As they are required, the prosecutors told the defense they had taken possession of the edited clip. The prosecution said it intended to present the clip as evidence at trial and provided a copy to Bradley and Martinez. The prosecution did not pursue the 2 hours of raw footage, according to the court filings.
In the court filings, prosecutors said they did not learn of the second, 28-minute clip until they were notified by a witness on May 24, as jury selection was about to begin. The prosecutors said in the filing that they provided a copy of the new clip to the defense on May 25 and listed the second clip among their trial exhibits.
Bradley and Martinez claimed in their filings that prosecutors should have obtained or at least been aware of the existence of a second clip in 2020, when they were notified that the videographers had two hours of unedited footage. They said the late disclosure was a device intended to leave the defense unprepared on the eve of trial.
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Martinez’s public defender Daniel Erwin complained in a court filing that the government “ambushed” her.
“It haphazardly discloses evidence absent any regard for the defendant’s rights and declines the courtesy of sharing its day-to-day witnesses with defense counsel,” Erwin said. “Far from bringing sunlight’s disinfecting powers to municipal politics, the government operates as a model of opacity and ambush. Now it takes a breathtaking step to avoid accountability for its own indifference to the law’s requirement of transparency.”
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 in the case suggests that Bradley and his campaign staff were allegedly 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.