Longtime Saybrook chief faces scrutiny

Accused of bullying, misusing funds

By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff
April 13, 2008

OLD SAYBROOK — Some call him a dictator and a bully; others, a family man devoted to his community and his church.

After 37 years as police chief and nearly 50 with the Old Saybrook Police Department, Edmund Mosca is one of the best-known figures in this beach town with a winter population of just more than 10,500.

He is described as a small-town chief who directs traffic and writes tickets when necessary, and spends time at the Police Department every day of the week.

But some in town are now saying that his long tenure has become a liability. In recent years, Mosca has been at the center of a series of controversies that have drawn the attention of the state Labor Department and attorney general’s office.

In 2005, the state Board of Labor Relations rebuked Mosca for laying off officers in retaliation for their support of joining a national union. Now he is under fire for his control of what he termed a “private fund.”

Attorney General Richard Blumenthal is investigating Mosca’s use of the McMurray-Kirtland Memorial Fund, which was set up decades ago and has operated outside of the department’s budget and at Mosca’s discretion.

Last month, the Freedom of Information Commission ruled that the fund’s records are public and ordered the department to release them to town resident Mary Hansen, a budget watchdog who filed the FOI complaint.

Mosca declined to comment for this story. He recently returned from several weeks in Florida, where he vacations every winter with his mother.

He moved to Old Saybrook when he was 15 years old and graduated from Old Saybrook High School. With his wife, Dolores, he has five children and 11 grandchildren, according to a biography on the town’s Web site.

Mosca joined the Old Saybrook Police Department in 1960 and became the state’s youngest chief in 1971, when he was 33 years old. Now 69, he is the state’s longest-serving police chief and earns about $99,000 a year.

“He’s a hard-working individual who’s devoted his life to police work,” said Christina Burnham, the chairwoman of the town’s Police Commission. “Even though he’s been (chief) for 37 years, he’s the first one to say, ‘We’re certainly not going to do it that way because that’s the way it was done 37 years ago.’”

But critics said Mosca has maintained his leadership role by promoting favorites and penalizing those who contradicted him.

“I think he’s been in power for so long because he has people who are committed to him, if they tell him what he wants to hear. If they question him or offer a difference of opinion, they’ve fallen from grace,” Hansen said. “It becomes an entitlement when they’ve been in that long — they’re entitled to that position, they’re entitled to do things and how dare you question them.”

‘A personal affront’

Concerns arose about the actions of Mosca and then-Deputy Chief Thomas O’Brien five years ago, when the department’s officers joined a national union and four were laid off in what was called a budgetary move.

Retired state police Lt. Bob Kiehm, whose stepdaughter was one of the officers laid off, had another term for the action: “union busting.”

“Ed Mosca is a very likable guy and for years he was a highly respected chief — I just have differences of opinion,” Kiehm said. “I find his performance suspect.”

The Old Saybrook officers first considered joining the International Brotherhood of Police Officers in 1997, and eventually voted to join the union in 2003.

The board found that the chief “viewed the affiliation issue as a personal affront.” Mosca and O’Brien discouraged officers from joining the union, telling them to “think about (their) future.”

Sgt. Donald Hull, who is now president of the union, “believed his promotional rank of sergeant was in jeopardy if he continued to advocate for affiliation with a national union,” the board said.

First Selectman Michael Pace said the layoffs were a difficult decision during an economic downturn.

“There was a lot of economic dollars lost in town and there were cuts throughout the budget and that came up, and it wasn’t something that anybody wanted to see happen,” Pace said.

The Labor Board found that the layoffs were in “retaliation for engaging in protected, concerted activity” — joining the union.

The town was ordered to offer reinstatement to three of the officers and make whole their back pay and other losses. The Police Department had since rehired one officer, so he was not a subject of the grievance.

Retired Officer Charles Della Rocco, who worked in the department from 1994 to 2007, said Mosca told him he could lose his job if he spoke up in favor of the union.

“I had a little kid at the time, so my mouth was shut,” Della Rocco said. “It was, ‘How dare you go against me?’ and that’s how that whole union thing came (about).”

Della Rocco is now suing the town for job discrimination because, he said, Mosca would not accommodate him after an on-the-job back injury. Cynthia Huckel, one of the officers laid off, is also suing the town for sexual harassment and a hostile work environment.

Hull said the issue has created lingering tensions within the department.

“It’s been very difficult for many years now for a lot of guys,” he said. “Obviously the job’s tough enough, and then the work environment being difficult just makes it that much more.”

Investigating the fund

In letters to donors, Mosca said the McMurray-Kirtland Memorial Fund was “set up to meet the special needs of the department and its personnel, which are not covered by our budget, and to support programs for local youth.”

In an affidavit Mosca sent to the Freedom of Information Commission, he wrote that the Kirtland family established the fund in 1975 with the purpose of using $100 a year to recognize an Old Saybrook officer.

“The fund was not to be part of the town’s budget and was not to be overseen by or subject to the oversight of town government,” he wrote, and if the money in the fund exceeded $100, “it could be used for whatever items I felt would be beneficial to the department and/or its employees.”

In 1985, Mosca merged the Kirtland Fund with another that had been set up in memory of Officer Raymond McMurray, who died in a Christmas Eve car crash in 1973. The combined fund is known informally as the “Mac Fund.”

The records Hansen obtained through her FOI compliant show some of the wide-ranging uses of the fund. It sent $100 to support a local student attending a youth leadership conference in Washington, D.C. Many payments went to meals for police or town events.

There are also expenses for air fare for department personnel, a donation to the Old Saybrook Historical Society, office supplies and flagpoles. In some cases, money was spent from the fund and later reimbursed.

Several letters and donations to the Police Department contained in the records express support for Mosca. For example, a resident thanking the chief for a safety demonstration at a carnival wrote, “My family and I are honored to be part of a town with an exceptional police force that exemplifies the meaning of selflessness and teamwork.”

While some of the checks deposited in the Mac Fund were directed specifically to the fund, others were made out to “Old Saybrook Police Department.”

Blumenthal said his office is investigating potential misuse of money in the fund or with tax issues. Mosca said in his affidavit that the Kirtland family’s attorney told him it was not taxable, but Blumenthal said a nonprofit would be required to follow registration and reporting regulations.

Mosca has privately retained a criminal defense attorney, Robert Britt of Hartford. Britt could not be reached for comment.

“My responsibility in overseeing nonprofit and charitable organizations includes making sure that contributed funds are used as the donor intended, so that is one of the general questions that we’re reviewing in connection with this fund,” Blumenthal said.

Burnham, the chairwoman of the Police Commission, said the commission decided at its last regular meeting to take a “wait and see” approach in regards to Blumenthal’s investigation.

Hull said he is surprised the Police Commission has not taken any action, calling it a “double standard” for Mosca and the rest of the department.

“If the situation were reversed and that was me or any other officer that had these allegations, we would be out on administrative leave the next day,” he said.

Commissioner Richard Metsack, who has been on the commission since 2005, said he has found the commission “subservient to Chief Mosca’s wishes.”

“We are very closed door,” he said. “I believe this very strongly — we should be proud of what we’re doing in town, not hiding everything.”

In the course of Hansen and Metsack’s inquiries into the fund, it was revealed that $64,000 that Essex resident Helene Banta had left to the Police Benevolent Association — the officers’ organization before they joined the national union — was instead deposited into the Mac Fund. The fund’s records show deposits of tens of thousands of dollars from Banta’s estate.

Hull said he was “shocked” when he learned about the action. The union has also obtained a copy of the Mac Fund records and is looking into its options, he said.

“I couldn’t tell you why he stole the money from the guys, but everything that I’ve heard or seen so far, there’s absolutely no doubt who the money was intended for,” he said. “Why he did what he did is beyond me.”

In the midst of the Mac Fund controversy, Della Rocco told reporters that the department’s insignia, which features a lighthouse on a stone jetty, includes the names “Mosca” and “O’Brien” traced into the cracks in the rocks. The names reportedly have appeared on uniform patches, police cars and a sign in front of the police station. A tiny “O’Brien” can still be made out on the insignia shown on the Police Department’s town Web site.

“He’s been around too long — it’s all about him now,” Della Rocco said. “I would say at the beginning of his career it was all about the town of Old Saybrook. Now it’s all about him and has been for the last 10 years.”

But Pace called Mosca “open and approachable.”

“He’s committed to his community, committed to the Police Department,” Pace said. “He’s a guy that I’ve always found with high integrity.”

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