The FBI intends to question former New Haven mayoral staffer Bianca Bowles as part of a larger corruption probe within City Hall, according to WTNH News 8.
Bowles worked in Mayor Toni Harp’s office as a receptionist from 2014–18. Her employment was terminated on Aug. 23, and she was later arrested on Oct. 4 for various crimes including identity theft connected to $13,000 in fraudulent purchases with a city-issued credit card. According to FBI agents, Bowles is being questioned for “any potential matters” at City Hall, as reported by WTNH News 8. Bowles had recently been moved to the city’s Youth Services department before her dismissal.
The probe comes following increased scrutiny into Harp’s financial decisions. In May, Harp granted raises to 37 of her top aides while also announcing an 11 percent property tax hike in the 2018–19 city budget. Bowles was given a 7.5 percent wage increase — which amounted to $3,000 annually.
In an interview with the News on Wednesday night, mayoral spokesman Laurence Grotheer said residents would have to “wait until tomorrow” to see if Harp would issue an official statement. He added that the mayor “was not aware of any FBI investigation.”
Yet, Harp responded to questions regarding the investigation Wednesday afternoon.
“Well, I’m surprised to hear about it,” she said to WTNH News 8 regarding the FBI’s efforts to speak to Bowles. “I can’t imagine why they are investigating that at the FBI level,” she concluded.
Harp has defended the May pay increases, arguing that, without the raises, her aides would make less than their counterparts in AFSCME Local 3144, the union that represents the city’s professional and management employees. She added that she was not required to release staff wage increases if such wages were within the range agreed to by the Board of Alders.
“Just because something is legal does not mean that it’s right,” Ward 1 Alder Hacibey Catalbasoglu ’19 said to the News in June regarding Harp’s decision to award the raises.
The Board of Alders’ Finance Committee unanimously approved an ordinance in July that moved to reduce multiple departmental budgets within the city government. The vote was a direct response to Harp’s wage increases.
Harp has also come under fire for diverting nearly $4,000 from the city fire department in May to buy more uniform business attire for three receptionists in the mayor’s office. These purchases occurred while Bowles was still working in the mayor’s office, and it is unclear if Bowles was required to return her city-purchased clothing, which totaled $1,279.
In response to the incident, Grotheer said there was a desire, not a need, to create and maintain a more professional standard in the reception area.
The mayor’s office announced in August that the fire department would be reimbursed the $4,000 that was used to buy the clothing.
This is a breaking story. Please check in later for more updates.
Nick Tabio | firstname.lastname@example.org