E. Haven man faces prison in Net case

Published: Saturday, July 11, 2009
By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff

GUILFORD — An East Haven man is facing several years in prison after pleading no contest to charges that he held sexually explicit conversations with a 13-year-old girl using online instant messaging.

The girl’s mother, who discovered the chats more than a year ago, said the case shows that parents and teenagers need to be aware of how much information they share through messaging and social networking services.

Police arrested Gene Crescenzi, 33, last June after the girl’s parents approached the department with concerns about conversations they had found on their computer. Police seized several computers, cameras, VHS tapes, CDs and DVDs from Crescenzi’s residence, and working with state police they later uncovered images of child pornography, leading to a second arrest.

This week, Crescenzi pleaded no contest to three felony charges: risk of injury to a minor, enticing a minor by computer and illegal possession of less than 25 images of child pornography. According to the terms of his plea agreement, he faces eight years in prison, suspended after four years, followed by 10 years of probation and registration as a sex offender. He has been free on $175,000 bail and is due to be sentenced Sept. 30.

Assistant State’s Attorney Jack Doyle said in court this week that many of the instant messaging conversations police uncovered included graphic sexual language, and that Crescenzi had attempted to approach or meet the girl during the conversations.

The girl’s mother, who asked not to be identified to protect her family’s privacy, called the incident “really frightening” and said it showed that parents need to be aware of their children’s use of the Internet.

“We sometimes think, ‘Not in Guilford, Conn., it’s safe here,’ but because of how far reaching the Internet is, we have to be aware and be cautious,” she said. “Not (to) be in a state of panic, but we have to be cautious and teach our kids safe Internet practices.”

Crescenzi first contacted her daughter using AOL Instant Messaging, and then looked at her MySpace page, the mother said. He allegedly misrepresented himself by using a fake name and saying he was in his 20s.

By pleading nolo contendere, or no contest, Crescenzi accepted that the state had enough evidence to convict him at trial, but did not admit guilt. Although the effect of the plea is that he is found guilty, it could not be used as an admission of guilt in a civil trial. The mother said the family is not planning to pursue a civil suit.

The woman, who attended court this week, said she and her husband are planning to write a letter to the judge for sentencing. But she said she is satisfied with the plea deal as it will allow her daughter to avoid having to testify in court.

She added that she wanted to see the judicial process through to show her children the “responsibility of making sure that kind of thing doesn’t happen to other people.”

“It’s very scary today, the access,” she said. “I feel like my daughter was being assaulted in my own living room and I had no idea.”

She said she has talked to her children about the importance of using strong privacy settings on social networking sites like MySpace or Facebook.

“I think everyone has to be a little more aware, especially the parents, that our teenagers and our young ones can be hurt while we’re sitting right there,” she said. “We want them to have fun, we want them to socialize with their friends and we want them to do all the things teenagers do online to have fun, but we want them to be safe.”

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Old Saybrook residents vote to implement ’08 revaluation

Friday, July 10, 2009
By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff

OLD SAYBROOK — Residents voted to implement the 2008 revaluation rather than putting it off until 2011 at a town referendum Tuesday. The vote means that property values will remain at their current levels and will be the basis for property taxes for the next two years.

The measure to postpone the revaluation failed by a vote of 1,460 to 1,036, according to First Selectman Michael Pace.

The referendum was the result of state legislation passed this year that allows towns due to review local property values in 2008, 2009 and 2010 to put the process off until 2011.

The Old Saybrook Taxpayers Association had contended that the revaluation from October 2008 was inaccurate due to the downturn in the economy. The group presented a petition that called a town meeting, which adjourned to the referendum.

But Pace and Assessor Norman Wood said that figures for home sales since the revaluation had showed that the town’s values for the homes were within a few percentage points of their sale prices.

Housing values rose 32 percent overall in the revaluation, according to the assessor’s office.

“I’m pleased that so many people turned out and that the town voted to stay with the new revaluation,” Pace said after the vote tally was announced Thursday night.

“This will save us $500,000 because we won’t have to do a (new) physical revaluation,” Pace added.

Special use hearing delayed

Friday, July 10, 2009
By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff

NORTH BRANFORD — A public hearing on a revised plan to rebuild the Northford Store was postponed Thursday.

The Planning and Zoning Commission had been due to hear testimony from the applicant, store owner Nick Demos, as well as members of the public at its regular meeting this week. But members of the commission decided to put the hearing off until Aug. 20 because they had not received the results of a traffic study.

Demos won approval from the PZC in August 2008 to rebuild the 1870s-era store — which burned to the ground in March 2008 — with an 8,000-square-foot building including a supermarket on the ground floor and five, one-bedroom apartments on the second floor.

The new plans scale back the proposal to a 6,000-square-foot building with four apartments. The proposal is to build the store in two phases, with the first phase comprising a two-story structure with a coffee shop with a drive-through window and another tenant retail space, and two, one-bedroom apartments on the second floor. The second phase would add a 2,600-square-foot retail space and another two apartments to the rear of the building.

The original proposal raised some opposition from neighbors because of the inclusion of a drive-through window for a coffee shop that Demos planned to operate out of the store. The hearing originally scheduled for Thursday was to have dealt with the drive-through issue, as Demos would need a new special-use permit for the revised proposal.

Town Planner Carol Zebb said at Thursday’s meeting that the commission had not yet received a traffic study associated with the drive-through proposal, and commissioners voted to postpone the hearing for that reason. An attorney for Demos gave the members copies of the traffic study at the meeting.

The new hearing is set for at 7 p.m. Aug. 20 at Town Hall.

Saybrook has 1 police chief applicant

Thursday, July 9, 2009
By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff

OLD SAYBROOK — Deputy Police Chief Michael Spera is the only applicant for the position of police chief, which will become open in October with the retirement of Chief Edmund Mosca.

Spera, 34, has been in charge of the daily operations of the Police Department since May, when Mosca announced his retirement and began using up accumulated sick and vacation days.

Last month, the Police Commission decided to look inside the department for a new chief, Chairwoman Christina Burnham said. If the candidate for the position does not fit the commission’s requirements, the town would then do an outside search, she said.

“We needed to see if we had a qualified candidate who met all of the requirements that we developed for the position before we spent money looking outside,” Burnham said.

Letters of interest from internal candidates were due last week. The commission is scheduled to hold a special meeting Monday, when it could vote on the appointment.

The department has been the source of controversy for two years as state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal investigated a fund that Mosca controlled and used for several purposes, including support for state and national police chief meetings, golf tournaments, conferences and local youth activities. Blumenthal found that Mosca had improperly used the McMurray-Kirtland Memorial Fund for 25 years, and required him to repay $22,500.

Blumenthal told the town to reorganize the fund, and his office is continuing to investigate the disbursement of $64,000 into it. A bequest left to the “Old Saybrook Policemen’s Benevolent Association,” which does not exist, was given to the fund rather than to the Old Saybrook Policemen’s Brotherhood Association, which later became the police officers’ union.

Blumenthal said Wednesday that the investigation is continuing, and he could not say whether there was a timeline for its completion. He said that no one within the Police Department is a target of the investigation.

Police Commissioner Richard Metsack said he would have preferred to do an external search for the police chief position, saying that it could have drawn more candidates with a range of experience.

“I’m adamantly against staying in town (to conduct the search),” he said. “I wanted to go out of town.”

The commission’s criteria for the job include a bachelor’s degree or higher in a field related to law enforcement or public administration, although the job summary states that “an equivalent combination of education and experience which indicates possession of the knowledge, skills, and other characteristics necessary for appointment may be substituted.”

Spera earned a Bachelor of Science degree in public safety administration from Charter Oak State College in May. He has also attended the FBI National Academy, a 10-week course for leaders of law enforcement agencies.

The qualifications for the police chief position also include 10 years of experience in law enforcement, with five years at the rank of sergeant or higher preferred and at least three years of experience as a shift supervisor required.

Spera was the only applicant last year for deputy chief when the Police Commission reinstated the position after four years with no deputy chief in the department. A town native, he started in the department as a dispatcher when he was 18 and became an officer when he was 21. He earns about $92,500.

He said he agreed with the process the Police Commission had chosen for the search.

“Just because I’m the only applicant does not mean that I’m getting the job,” he said. “That said, I do believe in promoting from within when you’re able to do that. I think it shows the personnel that if they work hard and they have goals that they can achieve them within their agency.”

Spera said he believed he meets the qualifications for the police chief position.

“Over the last year and a couple months as deputy chief, we’ve been able to make great strides with the members of our agency working really hard (and) building up on the legacy that Chief Mosca left us,” he said.

Guilford drowning ruled accidental

Tuesday, July 7, 2009
By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff

GUILFORD — Friends remembered Garland Brown, 19, as a sociable member of the University of Connecticut community, a day after he accidentally drowned.

Police are still investigating the incident, which occurred at a private pond off Susanne Circle Sunday afternoon, but they initially said that it “does not appear suspicious.” The office of the chief state medical examiner classified the death as an accidental drowning following an autopsy Monday.

Also Monday, Branford police responded to another man’s death when a resident of the Harbor Village condominium complex died due to a medical condition while swimming in Long Island Sound. Police said the man, 71, may have had a heart attack or other event. The unidentified man was transported to Yale-New Haven Hospital and pronounced dead.

Brown, of Queens, N.Y., was visiting friends in Guilford with other UConn students when the accident occurred. He apparently was swimming in the pond at about 2:40 p.m. when he disappeared underwater, police said. His friends pulled him from the water and began CPR. Emergency responders took Brown to the Yale-New Haven Shoreline Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.

Police said the pond ranged from about 3 feet to 8 feet deep. Detectives do not believe drugs or alcohol were involved in the incident, according to the Police Department.

Brown was just finishing up a summer course at UConn, said classmate Eduardo Garcia. Brown and Garcia were both entering their junior years studying engineering, Garcia said.

Garcia described Brown as “like a brother to me.”

“He was one of the first people I met at the University of Connecticut,” Garcia said. “He was genuine and honest, and his loss definitely has an impact on my life as well as, I’m pretty sure, others.”

Garcia said he and Brown would study together and meet up during the summer, when Garcia was home in New Jersey and Brown was in New York. He said they were planning to celebrate Brown’s 20th birthday next week, and they had spoken a few minutes before the incident Sunday. Garcia said there were about five friends swimming in the Valley Shores area, and he had spoken to some of them, but did not have details of the accident.

Another friend from UConn, Marcus Chapman, wrote in an e-mail that Brown spoke German and was participating in UConn’s Eurotech dual-degree program, which allows students to earn a Bachelor of Science in engineering and a Bachelor of Arts in German studies, according to UConn’s Web site.

Chapman added that Brown loved basketball and “constantly went to the gym and even pushed me to go to work out and play pickup basketball games.”

“He would always have a joke or a comment to say that would make you smile or laugh,” Chapman wrote. “He was a hard worker that when he faced a bump in the road, he kept going. He really looked up to his older brother and used him for motivation.”

By Thursday afternoon, a Facebook page set up by Brown’s brother, Andre Brown, Garcia, Chapman and another friend had hundreds of members, many of whom left condolences and happy memories of Brown.

Garcia said Brown will be remembered as an outgoing and friendly person.

“He was just nice to people — that was his one main thing, that he was really nice to people,” he said. “He was just completely humble and honest. That was one of the things that people will remember him (by).”

Martial arts studios still closed after arrest

Monday, July 6, 2009
By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff

GUILFORD — The United Studios of Self Defense martial arts academies in Branford and Guilford remain closed, more than a month after owner Joseph Moscatelli was arrested for allegedly videotaping staff and customers in a changing room.

State authorities found that Moscatelli did not have a health club license for the studios, but they have not taken any enforcement action as the businesses have not reopened, according to the state Department of Consumer Protection.

Police arrested Moscatelli, 43, on May 28 after an employee allegedly found a setup including a camera and computer in a back room of the Guilford studio, at 631 Boston Post Road. Moscatelli was charged with two counts of voyeurism with malice and one count of risk of injury to a minor, after investigators reviewing the recording initially found images of one female employee and one girl under the age of 16 in a state of undress.

After detectives seized equipment and studied more of the recording, Moscatelli was arrested again June 5 and charged with two more counts of voyeurism with malice.

He was released on $175,000 bail and has not yet entered a plea in the case. He is next due in court Aug. 13.

Guilford detectives informed Branford police of the case, since Moscatelli owns the United Studios of Self Defense at 66 N. Main St. in Branford. Deputy Police Chief Thomas Fowler said that the evidence in Guilford did not indicate there was a crime at the Branford studio as well.

Both studios have remained closed since the initial arrest, and Moscatelli has not responded to phone and e-mail messages from the Register. The Branford studio has had a sign in the window stating, “Due to unforeseen circumstances we are closed today. We are sorry for the inconvenience.” A sign that appeared in the window of the Guilford studio the day after the first arrest saying it was “closed until further notice” was no longer there last week, but the listed phone number had been disconnected.

Richard E. Maloney, director of trade practices for the Department of Consumer Protection, said the department discovered following the May arrest that Moscatelli did not have a license for either studio. The state requires a license for martial arts studios as they fall under the same category as health clubs.

Maloney said that the DCP has not taken any action against Moscatelli because the studios have stayed closed. A company called United Studios of Guilford LLC did hold a license for the location, but it became inactive in April 2000, Maloney said, and it is unclear how long Moscatelli has owned the business.

The DCP has heard from several consumers who paid upfront fees to Moscatelli, but so far has not received any complaints, Maloney said. He added that consumers should first try to recover any losses by contacting the studio by letter, but there is a state restitution fund if clients cannot obtain their fees.

“Our investigation is active and ongoing,” Maloney said.

It was a great weekend for catching sun

Monday, July 6, 2009
By Amanda Pinto and Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff

After weeks of rainy weather that kept people away from the beaches, tens of thousands of people descended on area parks during the holiday weekend.

Long-awaited rays of sunshine were a pleasant surprise for people like Pauline Findley, of Hartford, who strolled along the water at Long Wharf Sunday afternoon.

Findley, who visited the area after she dropped her daughter off at the University of New Haven, said she was happy able to be able to go for a walk on the morning of Independence Day.

“It was nice yesterday,” she said Sunday. “It made up for the rain the last couple of days.”

While some state parks reached capacity and had to turn away visitors on the sunny holiday, Hammonasset Beach State Park was able to accommodate the 6,000 cars that arrived Saturday, Park Supervisor Roger Kinderman said. Hammonasset has the largest car capacity of any state park.

With officials estimating that each carload averages four people, Kinderman said there were upwards of 24,000 day visitors at the park Saturday, in addition to the 3,200 people staying at the campground, which was full.

“We had a big day yesterday,” Kinderman said Sunday afternoon. “We hate to turn anyone away and I don’t want to do that ever because some come here with their kids and their picnics and their floats, and if we turn anyone away they’re sad — we don’t want anyone to be sad here.”

The “big day” for the state park was also part of a busy weekend for state cops.

As revelers across the state and nation celebrated Independence Day, state police also responded to 166 accidents between midnight July 3 and 9:30 p.m. July 4, according to a statement. State cops arrested 46 people for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, issued 2325 speeding tickets, and 351 seat belt tickets.

The area became a popular destination for out-of-staters this weekend; Raquel Zelayndia and her family stopped off at Long Wharf Sunday to picnic.

The group was returning from watching fireworks in Atlantic City, N.J., and couldn’t resist a stop along the water on the way back to their home in Worcester, Mass., Zelayndia said.

The parking lot across from Long Wharf was jam-packed with cars Sunday, some from as far away as South Carolina.

While Hammonasset’s parking lot was able to accommodate all the visitors Saturday, Kinderman said the number of people using the bathroom facilities caused a temporary drop in water pressure. Park workers had to close one of the bathrooms and turn the water off for a few minutes before reopening the facility.

“We had 25,000 people in the park yesterday all using our bathrooms, so the water consumption is enormous,” Kinderman said. “We had a little bit of a problem there but … we were able to fix it in short order and get it back open.”

As of about 2 p.m. Sunday, the park had seen 3,000 carloads of day visitors, Kinderman added. With June’s rainy weather, more people may be hitting the beaches now that the sun is out.

“June was abysmal — it rained probably 24 days in June — and now that the holiday is on us and it’s sunny, people are saying, ‘Let’s go to the beach,’” Kinderman said.