Wednesday, February 9, 2011
THE APONTE CHRONICLES: A JOURNEY OF DECEPTION ?
Aponte's appointment wasn't without controversy though. Prior to his appointment a source who had intimate knowledge of an ongoing Federal investigation as well as possible disbarment proceedings against Aponte contacted me with specific details. I related that information to several Council members as well as Corporation Counsel Saundra Kee-Borges
At least three of those Council members have now told me that they felt they were deceived by Aponte when they asked him for clarification before the replacement vote was taken. Two council members had specifically asked Aponte about the info and they stated Aponte had replied that there was nothing to the allegations and it was "just some woman trying to make some money" off him.
Documents obtained since that night the vote was taken seem to paint a much different picture. Aside from the actual complaint and investigation, the Connecticut Grievance Panel for the Hartford Judicial District issued their own "Grievance Panel Finding of Probable Cause" in which they determined that Aponte "appears to have been involved in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation".The Grievance Panel's "Finding of Probable Cause" to pursue allegations against Aponte are below:
Aponte Grievance Panel Finding of Probable Cause
Putting all the lawyer jokes aside, attorney's aren't typically known for using such strong language against one of their own. The full finding of probable cause can be read above. That finding was reached on November 23, 2009 and numerous continuances on the part of Aponte and his attorney dragged the eventual grievance hearing before a Superior Court Judge for over a year. Eventually a hearing was scheduled for January 13, 2011 and although Aponte and his attorney attempted to once again delay that hearing with a continuance, that request was denied and the disciplinary hearing was held.
That hearing could take several months before the decision is rendered. The result could be anything from an exoneration, a potential lengthy suspension of Aponte's law license up to disbarment. An attorney familiar with the case told me that considering the severity of the allegations and the strongly worded finding of probable cause, a lengthy suspension of a year or two would be likely but he wouldn't be surprised by the revocation of Aponte's license to practice law.
The documents posted below will paint an interesting picture of the initial fraud perpetrated by an illegal immigrant who had previously been caught up and imprisoned by food stamp fraud. After he served his sentence on the initial arrest he was apparently deported and then once again entered the United States illegally. Once back here, he began his food stamp fraud again.
This time though both him and his wife needed what they referred to as a "straw buyer" to operate under the radar and still be able to accept food stamps at their bodega located at 194 Mather Street. The "straw buyer", Maribel Diaz apparently went along with the plan after she was told that the store was actually owned by a Catholic Priest, Father Michael Galasso. The formerly deported illegal immigrant, who operated under numerous aliases including "Polo" Adames, Polo Collado-Adames,Leonaldo Collado,Jose Adames,David Martin, David Polo and Apolinar Collado along with his wife Lillian Adames, convinced Diaz to put the store in her name.
According to investigative reports and documents, Diaz claimed that Collado told her that they could not put the store in his wife's name because they had a daughter who had a heart transplant and she was receiving government benefits. They couldn't show the income or she would lose her benefits according to their story.
Diaz became suspicious of the operation when she noticed the large dollar amounts moving through the checking account that Collado had opened in her name for the business. On October 23, 2008 Diaz gave her statement to the USDA detailing the operation and her involvement. Her statement is detailed below:
Diaz USDA Statement
Diaz claims that Father Galasso was aware of the family's history but never warned her of their past or their family history in the previous scams. Father Galasso was abruptly transferred out of his parish several years ago by the Archdiocese of Hartford for unknown reasons and attempts to reach him for comment have been unsuccessful.
Although Aponte claimed to represent "Mr. Michael Galazo" in a letter dated November 29, 2004 to the USDA as a result of their investigation into the food stamp fraud. A couple of things make this suspicious as to Aponte's representation of Father Galasso. First off is the application to the USDA to accept food stamps which purports to be filed by Father Galasso. The only problem with that which makes me suspicious is that Father Galasso's name is misspelled on the application and if I were a betting person I would bet that the application was a forgery.
Aponte carries the misspelling of Father Galasso's name through on his letter to the USDA referring to him as Mr. Michael Galazo. It is unknown if Father Galasso and Aponte did actually have an attorney/client relationship and no documentation was available in the Grievance Committee's investigation showing that Galasso had actually retained Aponte as his attorney . Yhe Aponte letter to the USDA claiming "Galazo" as his client and the "Galazo" food stamp application are below:
APONTE TO USDA "GALAZO" CLIENT LETTER
"Galazo" USDA Food Stamp Application
On November 11, 2005 Aponte sent a letter to the USDA claiming to represent Maribel Diaz and appeared to be attempting to gather information regarding the Federal Investigation. The reality is that Aponte did not represent Diaz but actually was working for the apparent beneficiaries of the fraud scheme, Apolinar Collado. Eventually Maribel Diaz did actually retain the services of an attorney when she learned that she had unknowingly been drawn into the heart of the Federal investigation and that she was facing stiff penalties.
Diaz's attorney, Stefan J. Stolarz, sent a letter to Aponte on May 5, 2009 attempting to confirm his attempt to clarify the relationship between Aponte and Diaz. Apparently in a previous conversation Aponte stated to Stolarz that he "did not recall ever representing a Maribel Diaz". Yet, in the 11/11/2005 letter to the USDA , Aponte claimed in writing that he represented Diaz.
In his letter, Stolarz requests several critical documents from Aponte that Aponte would have been required to complete and make his client Diaz aware of if she was in fact ever his client. Specifically, at the time Diaz would have retained Aponte he would have completed an "agreement to represent". If in fact Aponte represented Diaz and also represented Collado/Adames this would have presented a conflict of interest and Aponte would have had to secure a "waiver of conflict" from Diaz verifying that she had been advised of the conflict.
In addition, if Aponte did actually represent both Diaz and Collado/Adames as he claimed, he was required to advise Diaz of Collado/Adames prior conviction for crimes specifically relating to the type of charges she now faced as a result of the Federal investigation. Aponte would have been required to explain to her how that history would relate to her current charges.
Apparently none of that documentation was forthcoming. Aponte's letter to the USDA claiming to represent Diaz and Attorney Stolarz's letter to Aponte are below:
Aponte Letter to USDA- Diaz Client Letter
Stolarz - Letter to Aponte- Diaz Client Letter
On July 13, 2009, Maribel Diaz filed a formal complaint with the State of Connecticut Judicial Branch and set the Grievance process against Aponte in motion. That complaint is below:
Diaz Complaint to Grievance Committee
During September of 2009 both Diaz and Aponte responded to the Grievance Panel in detail. Those detailed responses are below:
APONTE RESPONSE DIAZ COMPLAINT
The documents seem to speak for themselves, but a couple things seem to be very clear. First and foremost, Aponte was less than truthful when he told members of the Hartford City Council that there was nothing to the allegations. Aponte's peers, specifically the Grievance Panel members felt that the allegations were serious and more importantly credible when they issued their finding of probable cause against Aponte.
To accuse one of their fellow attorneys of fraud and deception is not an action that I would think they take lightly and would not be made without strong evidence.
The conflicting statements and letters from Aponte to the USDA claiming to represent Maribel Diaz and then his denial of representing her to Attorney Stolarz draw Aponte's integrity and truthfulness into question.
Aponte is not a new attorney fresh out of law school who can claim he didn't know better. The documents appear to outline a pattern of deception on the part of Aponte in dealing with this matter and his denial to his fellow council members was a further continuance of the deception.
We have had enough deception, corruption and yes even embarrassment by our elected officials to last a lifetime. Council President rJo Winch who refused to originally vote for Aponte's appointment then less than 24 hours later flipped her vote and supported Aponte to secure her own appointment as Council President needs to show how much of a leader she is now. If Aponte won't do the right thing on his own, Winch needs to lead the way to restore confidence and integrity and show that she can be a leader and move to remove