Campaign donors have ties to Southington developer seeking approval for sewer extension

reporter photo

SOUTHINGTON — The local Republican Party received unusually large campaign contributions a month before this year’s election from four people, two of whom didn’t vote in the subsequent election and none of whom had given to local political parties in recent years. All four people, who gave $2,000 each, work for or are connected to local developer and business owner Frank Fragola.

Information for two of the donors concerning occupation and employer, required by law, was missing from state filings.

Fragola has been trying for years to build housing on a Laning Street parcel he owns.

Earlier this year, his request to extend sewers there received a cool reception from Democrats who held a majority on the Town Council but support from the council’s Republican minority.

After November’s election and a GOP sweep, Republicans now hold six of the nine seats and the issue is on the council’s agenda for Monday.

Victoria Triano, a Republican councilor who became chairwoman after her party’s victory last month, supported the sewer extension earlier this year. She has questions about aspects of the project though such as the housing density and said she wants to hear more from Fragola.

“It’s giving me pause,” she said upon hearing about the campaign donations Friday.

The four donors didn’t return calls and messages for comment. Fragola also didn’t return messages left for him at his business, Fragola Performance Systems, and his attorney Bryan Meccariello declined comment on the contributions.

Unusually large donations

Rather than have individual candidates raise money, the local parties get contributions and use them to help elect the entire slate of council, Board of Education, Board of Finance, Planning and Zoning and other candidates. The local parties file reports with the State Elections Enforcement Commission showing who gave money, how it was spent and how much they have on hand at several points during the year.

Republican Town Chairman Steven Kalkowski said he doesn’t look at donors in detail since that’s handled by the committee treasurer. He was aware of the four large contributions but not the people behind them, he said. 

“Those are very nice donations. They came from people who are strong supporters of what we are trying to do,” he said. “I don’t know any of them personally.”

The four donations totaling $8,000 in personal checks all arrived on Oct. 7 according to the last filing before the election. Republicans reported that they raised $8,489 during that period, including those four checks, while Democrats raised $2,805.

Republicans outraised the Democrats overall even without the late infusion of $8,000. Republicans had a total of $27,297 in individual contributions in their last filing, while Democrats had $8,685.

Every Republican candidate won in November’s election.

"Those are very nice donations. They came from people who are strong supporters of what we are trying to do. I don’t know any of them personally."

-Republican Town Chairman Steven Kalkowski

A search of local Republican and Democratic financial filings since 2013 showed no other lump sum contributions of $2,000 although a few individuals in past elections contributed that much spread over several donations. Contributions of under $100 to a few hundred dollars are the most common. Those of more than $1,000 are rare.

Development ambitions

Fragola owns several manufacturing companies on West Queen Street that make automotive racing parts. He also owns land throughout town including the 11-acre parcel at 295 Laning St. that he’s been working to develop for years.

The latest housing development proposal calls for 31 age-restricted units, some of which will be affordable or priced below market rate. Meccariello, his attorney, said there’s a need for smaller, more manageable homes for older residents looking to downsize.

The wooded land lies outside the town’s sewer service zone which would require the proposed 31 homes to be built with septic systems.

Fragola and Meccariello proposed that the town add the Laning Street land to the sewer district, allowing him to tie his development into the town’s water and sewer system. In exchange, Fragola is asking that 30 acres he owns at 1316 West St., which are within the sewer district, be removed to offset any impact from the Laning Street development.

Town officials devised the sewer map to limit growth and the subsequent strain on the town’s water pollution control plant.

The town’s sewer committee agreed to the swap. The Town Council has final authority on sewer issues.

A land parcel at 295 Laning St. owned by Frank Fragola. The Town Council will consider whether to extend sewer service to the property for development. | Dave Zajac, Record-Journal

In July, the council was split along party lines over the proposal. Democrats opposed it while Republicans supported the deal. The issue was tabled at the time but is on the council agenda for Monday.

Triano said Meccariello wanted the issue on an agenda immediately after the election but Triano declined the request in order to let the new council establish itself before taking on the contentious issue.

“I think for Monday night’s meeting, I’m going to just allow the agenda to hold,” Triano said Friday. “We will listen to the presentation… I don’t know what’s going to happen after that.”

Triano said she didn’t know about the political contributions and that donors don’t hold influence over councilors or their votes.

Town Council Chairwoman Victoria Triano. | File photo.

“Donors have nothing to do with the agenda. Donors have nothing to do with our votes,” she said. “I don’t believe anybody knows anything about donors.”

Erica Byrne, Democratic town vice chairwoman, was concerned about the donations.

“We find it disturbing that a resident with business pending before the Town Council might instruct friends, family or associates, who had never donated before, to donate such large amounts,” Byrne said.

The four donors

The Southington Republican Town Committee’s filing with the state on Oct. 29 lists Theresa Zacchio, Jeffrey S. Pabst, Maria Melillo and John W. Lobb as having donated $2,000 apiece.

On that filing, Zacchio is listed as retired. On social media profiles, Zacchio said she works as an office assistant for F & F Screw, one of Fragola’s companies.

Zacchio is also a secretary with Best Friends Inc, a stock company formed in 1987. Fragola is the president and director of the company.

"Donors have nothing to do with the agenda. Donors have nothing to do with our votes. I don’t believe anybody knows anything about donors."

-Town Council Chairwoman Victoria Triano

Pabst, the contributor listed in state filings, didn’t have his employer or occupation sections filled out on the campaign finance paperwork.

The town clerk had voter records for a 26-year old Jeffrey Pabst showing that he has never voted. His Facebook page lists him as working at FK Bearings, another Fragola company.

Melillo’s occupation and employer is similarly unrecorded on the state filings. She’s listed as a team member on the Facebook page for FK Rod Ends, another Fragola company.

Town clerk records also show she didn’t vote in 2019.

While Melillo’s address on state filings is listed as 128 Maplewood Road, no such address exists in town records. Voter records show she and Lobb share an address at 123 Maplewood Road, a house adjacent to Fragola’s.

"We find it disturbing that a resident with business pending before the Town Council might instruct friends, family or associates, who had never donated before, to donate such large amounts."

-Erica Byrne, Democratic town vice chair

Lobb is listed as retired on the state filing. His Facebook page lists him as working for GE Healthcare and engaged to Melillo.

Fragola, Zacchio, Lobb and Pabst are unaffiliated voters according to the town clerk’s office. Melillo is a registered Republican.

Campaign finance rules

With larger political donations, more information is required about the contributor. Joshua Foley, a spokesman for the State Elections Enforcement Commission, said party treasurers should attempt to get information on occupation and employer from those giving between $100 and $1,000. For donors giving more than $1,000, that information is required by law, Foley said.

The local Republican party receives lots of donations, said Kalkowski, the town chairman, and does its best to enter all the information required under tight deadlines.

“The documentation requirements are immense,” he said.

Republican treasurer Johanna Furgalack said the final filing before an election has the shortest deadline. Where information on employer or occupation isn’t provided by the donor, as was the case in October, Furgalack said she’ll get the information and amend the filing.

“Those are the ones that end up getting amended a lot,” she said of the October filings. “I’m going to follow up and get the information and amend it.”


Twitter: @JBuchananRJ

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