BRIDGEPORT - The criminal case against former Waterbury Mayor Philip A. Giordano was built around the children he abused - the depravity of the acts he forced on two girls who had not yet reached puberty.
But the children's presence, like their testimony, has always been remote. Not so on Friday.
Senior U.S. District Judge Alan H. Nevas made their trauma the focal point Friday of scathing remarks before sentencing Giordano, 40, to a 37-year prison term that, with all credits factored in, would keep him behind bars until the approach of his 70th birthday.
"You destroyed these girls emotionally and psychologically," Nevas said. "You preyed upon them and you destroyed their innocence to satisfy your own sexual desires."
Referring to the reports of therapists and guardians, Nevas vividly described the nightmares both children - ages 8 and 10 when the sexual assaults began in the fall of 2000 - experienced as the trial and their turn to testify approached. The younger one, he said, became ill from anxiety and lay curled in a fetal position one floor above the courtroom, waiting to testify.
"The abuse became a routine in her life, where she saw no end," Nevas read from a therapist's report.
The older girl spent the evening before her testimony throwing up, all the while reassuring her counselor that she could do it, she could testify. She fears Giordano will find her and kill her, the judge said.
"Her entrance into her teen years is challenged by her past," Nevas quoted the therapist's writing about the older child. "She will not experience crushes, dating, falling in love like the typical teenager does. Instead, she is at risk that such relationships will trigger painful memories of her abuse and her abuser."
Nevas told Giordano that, in his 18 years on the bench, Giordano's case was the worst he'd seen.
Giordano stood with his fingers laced behind his back, facing Nevas but showing no reaction to his words. He remained stoic throughout the 90-minute hearing and declined Nevas' invitation to speak.
Later in his sentencing remarks, Nevas upbraided Giordano for his silence, for not even apologizing to his mother and sister, who sat behind him, for having put them through this. Giordano's wife, Dawn, who sat through every day of the trial, was conspicuously absent. She also was not present on March 25 - Giordano's birthday - when the jury returned its verdict of guilty on 17 felony counts.
Defense attorney Andrew Bowman talked about the charismatic politician Giordano once was, and the devastation of losing everything.
"Don't put aside the other years, when he had worked so hard and achieved so much," Bowman implored Nevas.
"The fall, your honor, is huge," Bowman said of Giordano's tumble from prominence to pariah.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Peter Jongbloed railed about Giordano's defiant attitude in taking his case to trial, forcing the girls to testify explicitly about what he did to them and what he forced them to do to him.
"This arrogant public official who had the nerve to tell his constituents when he's running for office that he's going to be tough on crime," Jongbloed fumed. "The one thing we have not heard in any sense from the defendant is that's he's sorry for what he did, that what he did was wrong. Nothing. It's deafening."
Nevas rejected Bowman's pleas to show mercy to Giordano for his military service, for the extraordinary impact his incarceration would have on his family, and because the time he spends in prison is compounded by "unusual susceptibility to abuse." Bowman said Giordano has spent all but two of the past 23 months behind bars in segregation.
What Nevas did credit, in sparing Giordano a life sentence, was Giordano's three-day stint of cooperating with federal law enforcement officials before his arrest.
Federal agents were covertly investigating municipal corruption in Waterbury, and kickbacks Giordano may have received from city contractors, including one with close ties to organized crime. Wiretaps had been in place for almost six months, trapping thousands of conversations on tape, when agents were startled to learn that one of the females Giordano was routinely arranging to have sex with was a child.
Giordano's young victims were brought to him by Guitana Jones, a convicted prostitute who had had a longstanding sexual relationship with Giordano. Court documents released Friday also stated matter-of-factly that he had fathered her son, born in December 1993. The girls Jones brought to Giordano for sex were her 8-year-old daughter and 10-year-old niece.
In a July 9, 2001, wiretapped conversation, when Giordano tells Jones he wants her to bring the younger of the victims, Jones noted that it was the girl's birthday. When Giordano asked how old she was turning, Jones answered "9."
The municipal corruption scandal took a back seat as agents scrambled to secretly arrest Jones, and placed Giordano under 24-hour surveillance. An anonymous call shaking Giordano down for money was devised to keep him away from the children. Jones agreed to cooperate with the FBI, and lured Giordano to a commuter parking lot to pay hush money. Suddenly, he was surrounded by agents and hustled into the back of an unmarked car.
FBI agent William Reiner Jr. testified that he told Giordano they knew about the sexual activity and asked Giordano if he wanted to cooperate in the municipal corruption probe before his arrest, in exchange for possible consideration at sentencing.
For three days, Giordano made phone calls, arranged meetings, wore a concealed tape recorder and transmitter to meetings, including one with Joseph Pontoriero, president of Bethel-based Worth Construction Co. One federal agent in testimony earlier this year described Pontoriero as an associate of the Genovese crime family. Bowman said Friday that Giordano had received a "credible threat" while incarcerated in November 2001.
"His substantial assistance has resulted in tremendous consequences to him," Bowman said. "He has been in 23-hour lockdown, and may well be in that position for the duration of his confinement."
Nevas acknowledged that Giordano might be subject to abuse in prison. He said he had written a letter to the regional director of prisons noting that Giordano's past as mayor, child molester and informant "make him particularly vulnerable in a prison setting."
Jongbloed told Nevas any use the government would have for Giordano as a cooperating witness in other cases was "severely diminished" by the false statements Giordano made in both an affidavit and in his testimony at trial, when he denied any contact with the girls. His credibility may be nil, but the surveillance tapes he helped the FBI make could prove powerful evidence, with other parties incriminating themselves. No other arrests have been made in the corruption investigation that began in the summer of 2000.
Giordano was convicted of violating the girls' civil rights by using the trappings of his office to intimidate them to remain silent about the assaults. The children testified they thought he was the boss of everyone, and watched over everyone "like God."
Because the jury found Giordano committed aggravated sexual assault against the children, he faced a life sentence, which the U.S. Probation Office and Jongbloed recommended. By accepting the government's motion to consider Giordano's brief stint of cooperation, Nevas altered, reluctantly, the sentencing range Giordano faced to a minimum of 30 years.
"Your guidelines initially provided for a life sentence, and I can tell you, Mr. Giordano, I would have had no hesitation in sentencing you to life for what you've done," Nevas said. Then the judge commended prosecutors for standing by the promise made to Giordano to bring any cooperation he rendered to the attention of the sentencing judge.
"No matter how awful a crime has been committed, cooperation deserves reward," Nevas said.
Nevas sentenced Giordano to 37 years. However, Giordano gets credit for the 23 months he already has spent in prison, and could earn a 15 percent reduction for good behavior, resulting in a net sentence of 29½ years.
Nevas gave Giordano the maximum sentence of five years each on one count of conspiracy and 14 counts of using an interstate device - his cellphone - to solicit minors for sex. Those sentences will be served concurrent with the 37 years, and do not increase the time Giordano will spend in jail.
Nevas said he had considered requesting that the Bureau of Prisons send Giordano to the Federal Correctional Institution at Butner, N.C., which specializes in treating sex offenders. Nevas said, however, that he learned Butner will not accept inmates who have not admitted their guilt or taken responsibility for their actions. "So there'd be no purpose in sending you there," Nevas said.
Giordano still faces state felony charges, and is scheduled to return to Waterbury Superior Court Wednesday to enter pleas on six counts of first-degree sexual assault, six counts of conspiracy and six counts of risk of injury to a minor. If convicted on all counts, Giordano faces a state sentence numbering in the hundreds of years.
After Nevas left the bench, the courtroom was largely silent as people filed out. Several spectators approached Reiner and hugged him.
"Good job, Billy," one woman said softly.
They were caseworkers from the state's oft-maligned Department of Children and Families. In this case, Jongbloed said, they were the quiet heroes who took charge of two abused children under chaotic - even mysterious -circumstances, and helped them begin the healing process.
One of the DCF workers in court was Ken Mysogland, who supervises the agency's abuse hot line. He had accompanied Reiner, not knowing that Reiner was an FBI agent, to remove the two victims from their homes in the middle of the night. Because the children were removed before Giordano's arrest, federal agents could tell the social workers very little about the case. They knew it was bad; they didn't know how bad.
"All we could tell them is, `This is a serious matter, and we need your assistance.' They were wonderful," Jongbloed said.
Another prosecutor, Kari Dooley, said the girls have bonded with their caseworkers, who also were in court to watch Giordano's sentencing. She said the caseworkers' duties Friday included telling the girls that the man who abused them, who convinced them he was all-powerful, would be locked up until he was an old man.
Courant Staff Writer Mark Pazniokas contributed to this story.
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