After WTNH News 8 reported on Wednesday that the FBI intends to question former New Haven mayoral staffer Bianca Bowles as part of a larger corruption probe within City Hall, Mayor Toni Harp’s office strongly denied any claims of an investigation relating to the Harp administration or its staffers.
“There is no FBI investigation of City Hall, nor is there an FBI investigation of anyone at City Hall,” mayoral spokesperson Laurence Grotheer told the News on Thursday.
Yet, on Wednesday morning, a pair of FBI agents arrived at a former address of Bowles’. Though she no longer resides there, the building is inhabited by an employee of WTNH, according to WTNH News 8.
Bowles worked in Mayor Harp’s office as a receptionist from 2014 to 2018. Her employment was terminated on Aug. 22, and she was arrested in early October for various crimes — including a charge of identity theft connected to $13,000 in fraudulent purchases with a city-issued credit card.
WTNH reported that the agents were attempting to reach Bowles, who had been moved to the city’s Youth Services Department just before her termination, in connection with “any potential matters” regarding corruption at City Hall.
Mario Boone, the staff reporter at WTNH News 8 who broke the story of the FBI probe, told the News that he confirmed the identity and credentials of the FBI agents who were attempting to question Bowles, but could not release personal information about his sources.
Later in the day on Wednesday, a reporter for News 8 questioned Harp regarding the investigation. The mayor appeared unaware of the probe or its scope.
“I’m surprised to hear about [the alleged probe],” Harp said, according to the Oct. 10 WTNH article. “I can’t imagine why they are investigating that at the FBI level.”
Grotheer told the News on Wednesday that the mayor was unaware of any investigation in City Hall. In a follow-up interview with the News on Thursday, Grotheer suggested that WTNH’s report “is misleading at best and may well be factually incorrect.”
Charles Grady, outreach specialist for the New Haven FBI field office, could not be reached for comment on Thursday afternoon.
Though Grotheer told the News that law enforcement bodies had assured him that no such corruption probe regarding City Hall existed, he declined to name a specific law enforcement body.
The mayor’s office has not released an official statement regarding the alleged investigation.
The alleged probe comes following increased scrutiny into Harp’s financial decisions in recent months. In May, Harp’s administration came under public criticism after the mayor granted raises to 37 of her top aides while also announcing an 11 percent property tax hike. That same month, Bowles was given a 7.5 percent wage increase — which amounted to $3,000 annually.
Harp has defended the May pay increases. She said 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.
“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.
In response to Harp’s wage increases, the Board of Alders’ Finance Committee unanimously approved an ordinance in July that reduced multiple city departmental budgets.
Harp has also come under fire for diverting nearly $4,000 from the New Haven 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. 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.
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