Fired New Milford Police Officer Brant Cadovius has lost his appeal to receive unemployment compensation.
The hearing officer sided last week with the town's decision to terminate Mr. Cadovius for improper conduct, which the official described as "extortion."
In findings from the state Employment Security Appeals Division in Waterbury, John Vagnini, associate appeals referee, ruled Mr. Cadovius' own words -- rather than the documentation offered by his attorney to refute the town's allegations -- led him to decide the 41-year-old police officer was not seeking "restitution" from a teenager who allegedly stole his wallet at the Danbury Fair mall in August 2009.
Mr. Vagnini said his finding, based on a legal definition, is Mr. Cadovius was attempting to "extort" $2,000 from the teen and his family.
Mr. Cadovius' attorney, Daniel Hunsberger of Ridgefield, said he will appeal. He said there are a "number of inconsistencies," including that the charges in the criminal case, including extortion, were dropped.
Mr. Cadovius is scheduled June 26 for a separate termination hearing before the state Department of Labor to determine if he would be reinstated to his job.
If the facts of the case are properly reviewed, Mr. Hunsberger said, he expects those results, and that of the next appeal, "will be entirely different."
Mr. Cadovius was fired from his job on June 21, 2011, following an internal investigation into his conduct. He first applied for unemployment compensation two months later. His base annual salary was about $63,500.
Mr. Cadovius was arrested in July 2010 and initially charged by Danbury police with attempted fourth-degree larceny (extortion) and second-degree harassment.
Those charges were later increased by the state's attorney's office to attempted first-degree larceny, attempted third-degree larceny, second-degree harassment and second-degree threatening.
In November, Mr. Cadovius entered into a plea bargain under the Alford Doctrine that dropped all of the charges but a single count of breach of peace.
Under the Alford doctrine, a defendant disputes allegations but accepts there is enough evidence to convict him were the case to go to jury trial.
Mr. Cadovius was sentenced in March to a suspended sentence of six months incarceration, with two years of conditional discharge.
The criminal case relates to an incident in August 2009, when Mr. Cadovius left his wallet on a train he was riding with his children at Danbury Fair mall.
The operator of the train, 18-year-old Taylor Cucchiara of Southbury, found the wallet, took the cash and then threw away the wallet, still holding Mr. Cadovius' badge, identification, credit cards and other personal items.
The facts of the case are listed in the appeal document The Spectrum obtained through a Freedom of Information request to Mayor Pat Murphy's office.
Mr. Cadovius first reported to Danbury police that his wallet had been lost. After contacting Mr. Cucchiara, he reported it stolen.
The teen agreed to repay $380, despite disagreeing about the amount of cash Mr. Cadovius said was in the wallet.
A day later, Mr. Cadovius called Mr. Cucchiara and asked for $2,000 "to make the incident go away," the document says. The two agreed to meet at the mall, but Mr. Cucchiara's mother, Suzanne, went instead and made a secret recording of their exchange.
Mr. Cadovius is heard demanding the $2,000 or he would press felony charges against the son, noting that could cost the family financially and harm the teen's future.
Mr. Cadovius "clearly tried to use his standing as a police officer to coerce the Mr. Cucchiara family into paying him $2,000, above and beyond what was clearly stolen from his wallet ..,'' Mr. Vagnini wrote.
"...since the Cucchiara family knew (Mr. Cadovius) was a police officer with experience in these matters, his words were taken seriously," Mr. Vagnini wrote. "As the employer (New Milford) pointed out, (Mr. Cadovius) was acting as judge and jury in this matter."
Mr. Cadovius characterized the proposed payment as "restitution," but Mr. Vagnini said because he linked the payment to dropping felony charges it appears "closer to extortion than restitution."
"The adverse publicity the incident subsequently generated clearly was detrimental to the reputation of the ... police department," Mr. Vagnini said.
New Milford attorney Scott McCarthy said he hopes the determinations in this case will be viewed similarly by the labor board.
It was a "fair hearing" and "the town is pleased with the findings and the decision," he said.