Town Attorney Fred Baker said Tuesday night that the FBI investigation into town records may have come after years of accusations and court actions alleging misconduct by public officials.
"Those accusations have been made in litigation and through legal speculations that may have caused the FBI to say, `Let's look into these allegations,'" Mr. Baker told selectmen Ed Bennett and Curtis Read.
In recent years, considerable controversy has arisen regarding First Selectman Bill Stuart's management of the charitable Burnham Fund and other town proceedings.
Those allegations have led to Freedom of Information requests for documents; to lawsuits; and an investigation into Burnham Fund disbursement by the state Attorney General's office. That investigation, begun in 2009, is ongoing.
"When public officials conduct government business in violation of the law, including federal law, the FBI is the agency that oversees local and state government," Mr. Baker said.
He spoke during a special Board of Selectmen meeting Tuesday night from which Mr. Stuart recused himself. Mr. Baker recommended the remaining two selectmen conduct all future meetings and discussions regarding the FBI investigation.
On July 11, FBI agents shut down Bridgewater Town Hall and executed a search warrant, taking out boxes of documents. The bureau refused to comment on the search warrant, as did the U.S. Attorney's office.
"We know that recent paid invoices have been taken, with no copies left here," Mr. Read said. "Many of those documents are needed for the upcoming town audit. We have an inventory of what they took and I've discussed with (financial administrator) Kim Baron about what documents are involved in the audit."
Documents taken include paid invoices as far back as the 2009-10 fiscal year, and check copies and records up to the current year for the Burnham Fund, Mr. Read said.
Mr. Baker was authorized by the selectmen to request copies of required documents from the FBI.
Mr. Baker also advised the selectmen to seek separate legal counsel on possibly hiring an attorney specializing in federal actions to represent town officials during the FBI investigation and any related legal actions.
"There are various officials in the town that may be the subject of the investigation," Mr. Baker said. "I think there will be some officials who will be merely witnesses who will need legal representation."
Mr. Read said some officials already have been questioned by the FBI.
The Board of Finance, in an emergency meeting Friday, voted to ask the Board of Selectmen to appoint a special town attorney to represent the finance board. Mr. Read declined to act on that request Tuesday.
"You can be the subject of an investigation, but not necessarily be the target of the investigation," Mr. Baker said. "All we know is that the FBI has commenced an investigation. Everything else is speculation at this point."