Bridgeport City Council member referred to prosecutors in ballot fraud probe

It's the third criminal referral related to last fall's mayoral election.

John Craven

Jul 3, 2024, 9:40 PM

Updated 18 days ago

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The Bridgeport ballot scandal is expanding. Now, prosecutors are considering possible criminal charges against a City Council member.
On Wednesday, the State Elections Enforcement Commission (SEEC) referred a complaint against Councilwoman Maria Pereira to the Chief State's Attorney. It's the third criminal referral related to last fall's mayoral election.
BALLOT SCANDAL
Bridgeport's absentee ballot scandal has already made national news. After videos surfaced of campaign workers stuffing ballot drop boxes, a judge ordered a new Democratic primary for mayor.
On Wednesday morning, SEEC unanimously voted to refer a complaint against city Councilwoman Maria Pereira to prosecutors. The complaint was filed by Kevin Monks, who unsuccessfully ran against Pereira, but it includes signed affidavits from 11 voters accusing the councilwoman of bribing and threatening them, as well as illegally handling their absentee ballots.
"NO ONE WILL EVER KNOW"
Pereira's own words could come back to haunt her.
The complaint includes two threatening messages, allegedly in Pereira's handwriting, on the bottom of voters' absentee ballot instructions. One message reads, "You get to vote for whoever you want, just like I get to choose which residents I help or don't help." The note is signed, "Councilwoman Maria Pereira." Another message in the same handwriting reads: "No one will ever know!" It is followed by a heart, and the names Maria Pereira and her running mate, Jazmarie Melendez.
Melendez told News 12 Connecticut that she never pressured voters and was unaware of the message.
"I do not know the meaning of that note as I did not write it," Melendez said. "My presumption is that my name was written because I initially ran with her but very early on in the campaign, I removed myself from her. Since then, I have no affiliation with Maria."
Another voter wrote, "She told me what line to vote for and I sign it." And a third complainant claimed the councilwoman "likes to bribe the seniors, bringing them Christmas presents ... buying them food, getting them little things."
The complaint also alleges that Periera illegally went through an 81 year-old voter's mail while she wasn't home at Fireside Apartments. Bridgeport police declined to file charges in that incident, and Pereira has previously denied wrongdoing.
She did not respond to requests for comment on Friday.
GANIM VS GOMES
Until now, most fraud complaints have focused on Mayor Joe Ganim's campaign. But Pereira worked for his opponent, fellow Democrat John Gomes, who frequently criticized the mayor.
"It stains the political world," Gomes said on Oct. 13. "It stains Bridgeport, and quite frankly, it's very sad that we're in this situation today."
Ganim's campaign praised the criminal referral.
"We appreciate that SEEC has made this a priority and put in the time and effort to thoroughly investigate the many complaints filed against the Gomes campaign," campaign spokesperson Rowena White said in a statement. "We maintain that the integrity of the election process is a priority for all Bridgeport voters."
Gomes did not respond to requests for comment.
WHAT'S NEXT?
It's now up to the Chief State's Attorney whether to actually charge Maria Pereira – a decision that could take months. Prosecutors are also considering two other ballot fraud cases stemming from the 2023 election.
Last month, four campaign workers were charged with election fraud related to the 2019 mayor's race. Three of those charged worked for Ganim, while one worked for his opponent, state Sen. Marilyn Moore.


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