A “Team Cassetti” supporter called police anonymously to report the mayor’s challenger for driving an unregistered car, then followed the candidate for almost two miles before snapping a photo as a police officer investigated.
Ryan Hunt, a vocal supporter of two-term incumbent Mayor David Cassetti, said he did so because Democrat Tarek Raslan’s failure to register his car meant it was not on the city’s grand list, making it impossible for Ansonia to collect taxes on it. That didn’t sit right with him.
“You step into the arena to run for the mayor of a city, but you have all these things going on. You have to expect that’s going to come out,” Hunt said.
But opponents said Hunt’s intent was anything but high minded.
Raslan called Hunt’s explanation “absurd,” reflecting an “uncomfortable level of malice and obsession toward a fellow Ansonia resident he’s never actually met.”
Raslan said Hunt was trying to embarrass him, which is why he turned his anonymous report into a photo op.
Police did not give Raslan a ticket.
On The Hunt
Hunt said he was in the Big Y Plaza off Main Street Monday, Sept. 11 when he saw Raslan in the parking lot at Target across the street loading campaign signs into his car.
Hunt said he had entered Raslan’s name and license plate on the publicly available Department of Motor Vehicles website, which showed Raslan’s car registration had been expired for 11 months.
He called police and began following Raslan’s car. Hunt told The Valley Indy he had never followed Raslan previously.
Hunt did not give police his name last Monday — listen to his call to police below — but revealed himself as the source Friday as the Valley Indy researched the story.
“The reality is I didn’t want to be dragged in. I work with the police and I didn’t want to put them in a precarious position either,” Hunt said. “So it was just ‘Here it is, you guys do your job’ and that’s that.”
Hunt is an assistant chief with Ansonia Rescue Medical Services, the city’s ambulance service. He said he was not on the clock during the incident.
Ansonia police Thursday (Sept. 14) released 13 short audio recordings related to the incident at The Valley Indy’s request.
The Valley Indy condensed the recordings into a single file below. A call to police not related to the Raslan incident was cut by the Indy.
Click play to listen.
In the recording, a male voice — later revealed to be Hunt — tells the police dispatcher that he is driving behind a car that is not registered.
Hunt, when prompted by the dispatcher, says he knows the unregistered car’s driver.
The dispatcher radios an officer in the field about the call.
“Why are they following him?” the officer asks.
The dispatcher notes the anonymous caller had done some research on Raslan.
At that point a third voice, another police officer, can be heard in the recording. The anonymous caller (Hunt) cannot hear him as he talks to the dispatcher.
The dispatcher summarizes the situation for the officer — an anonymous caller is following Tarek Raslan and says Raslan is driving a car with an expired registration.
“He doesn’t want to tell us his name?” the officer says, sounding incredulous. “Ah, what the f—-,” he says.
Meanwhile, the anonymous caller keeps updating the dispatcher on Raslan’s location.
According to the audio, Hunt followed Raslan for about 1.8 miles, from Route 115 near General Muffler, onto Elm Street, and up the hill on Platt Street before Raslan pulled onto Pulaski Highway, passed Ansonia High School, and made a right onto Fitzpatrick Road.
“He’s at the end of Fitzpatrick Road. I see the cop,” Hunt says as his call ends.
The Valley Indy learned about Raslan’s registration through an anonymous tip a few hours after an officer talked to him Monday.
Raslan said he had parked on Fitzpatrick Road to put up campaign signs when an Ansonia police officer pulled up behind him.
The officer said someone had called police to report his motor vehicle violation.
Then someone pulled up on a motorcycle and began taking pictures of him. Raslan did not recognize the rider.
The photo is embedded below:
It was “an incredibly odd situation,” Raslan said.
“I was already very skeptical of the situation right from the beginning. When we saw the motorcycle pull up and take the photo I knew 100 percent was some kind of political stunt.”
Raslan snapped a photo of the person who took his photo as the person rode away.
“The thing that rattled me the most, I would say, is that is was very coordinated. It kind of shocked me, in a way. I wasn’t sure what would happen next,” he said.
Raslan’s photo is embedded below.
Raslan said he did not realize his car’s registration had expired 11 months ago. The officer told him he could not drive the car until it was registered, so Raslan had it towed home.
He said he resolved the registration issue at the Department of Motor Vehicles the next day.
Raslan, who has never run for public office before, said his car should have been registered. He forgot.
“I don’t think I’m alone in that fact, and my recent encounter with the the DMV confirmed I’m not alone in that fact,” Raslan said.
But the candidate said exposing his expired registration to the world wasn’t the goal — embarrassment was. He said the opposition was clearly trying to “get into his head.”
“The situation with Ryan Hunt is being reviewed by legal counsel, we still have some unanswered questions,” Raslan said.
The Hunter Speaks
Hunt said he was both the anonymous caller and the paparazzo on the motorcycle.
He said he was in a car while calling in Raslan’s location to police, then went home and hopped on his motorcycle and went back to Fitzpatrick Road where he took Raslan’s photo.
Hunt said his goal was not to intimidate Raslan.
To him, it’s about taxes.
Hunt is angry at comments Raslan made during a May 24, 2016 public hearing on the Ansonia budget.
Several people tried to convince the city’s Aldermen to give more money to the school district.
Raslan said during the hearing, which happened before he was running for mayor, that he would be happy to pay more taxes if it meant improvements to the city’s public schools.
Click here to listen to his comments.
To Hunt, Raslan wants to raise taxes, but cheated Ansonia out of tax revenue by moving to the city and failing to put his car on the Ansonia tax rolls.
Hunt sees Raslan as an outsider. A rabble rouser.
“My point is that I’m a taxpayer. I’ve lived here my whole life. I’m obligated to pay taxes,” Hunt said. “You’re walking around saying how honest you are. You want to change the direction and the vision. Your slogan is honesty, innovation. And you go on the record saying you are in favor of raising our taxes and you are not paying your own. That is the problem I have.”
Raslan said Hunt’s explanation is absurd, and that he is misinterpreting his comments about taxes from 2016.
“At that hearing, I stated that I myself would be willing to pay more to fund education, as an individual that was paying property taxes on three homes, a truck, and having no children in the school system,” Raslan said.
Hunt also pointed out that Raslan, after the police encounter, paid delinquent motor vehicle taxes he owed in Stamford, where he is originally from.
Records show Raslan paid $426 in delinquent motor vehicle taxes to Stamford last week.
Hunt’s argument about back taxes is undercut by the fact Mayor Cassetti’s businesses owed more than $15,000 in delinquent real estate and motor vehicle taxes to Ansonia when he first ran for mayor in 2013.
The Internal Revenue Service also lodged federal tax liens against Cassetti’s companies, alleging the businesses owed more than $170,000.
Cassetti and his companies have since settled the debts.
In 2013, John Marini, then the head of the Ansonia Republican Town Committee and now the city’s corporation counsel, said anyone raising Cassetti’s unpaid bills as a campaign issue was engaging in “gutter politics.”
Marini, in discussing Cassetti’s back taxes in 2013, described the Democrats as a “desperate party that will do anything to stay in power.”
He called it “disgusting.”
Cassetti and the GOP went on to a stunning victory in 2013, throwing out the Democratic mayor and the majority on the Board of Aldermen.
But, by Marini’s previous statements, isn’t Hunt, a Cassetti supporter, practicing “gutter politics” by bringing up Raslan’s bills?
Marini said he stands by his 2013 comments.
“This year’s campaign is not about unregistered motor vehicles, just as 2013’s was not about late property taxes. It is all about the candidate’s ability to govern Ansonia and deliver results for its residents,” Marini said in an email.
Hunt said he was not following Ansonia politics in 2013 as closely as he is following now.
“I don’t advocate anyone not paying their taxes. If the mayor wasn’t paying their taxes, he should have been paying his taxes just like I’ve been paying my taxes, right? I’m not saying that was the right thing, but he corrected it. He wasn’t advocating to raise people’s taxes back then, or ever,” Hunt said.
He also said he was acting on his own last week, not under the direction of “Team Cassetti.”
It’s been a tumultuous three weeks in the Ansonia political campaign.
On Sept. 8 the Valley Indy reported that a Democrat running for Alderman was expected to drop out of the race because he was being investigated for drunk driving. The candidate, a former Ansonia corporation counsel, was arrested Sept. 12.
There were also GOP primaries for Fourth Ward Aldermen and the school board Sept. 12.
On Sept. 13 the Valley Indy reported that Ed Musante, a volunteer on Mayor David Cassetti’s re-election campaign, apologized for pestering a downtown business owner about removing Cassetti political signs.
Meanwhile, Raslan said he and Beth Lynch, a Democrat running for town clerk, had a strange encounter with Musante a few weeks back.
Musante drove by them some six times while they were campaigning throughout Ansonia, Raslan said.
“We’ll continue to work with our legal counsel to figure out what’s going on,” Raslan said. “We’re starting to document all of these things. It’s a distraction, ultimately.”
Lynch, a lifelong Ansonia resident, said this year’s race is disturbing.
“In all the years I’ve been involved in campaigns I’ve never seen this type of behavior,” she said.
Mayor Cassetti is a clear favorite in this year’s election. First, he’s an incumbent, which always helps locally. Also, he won a second term by a wide margin. He’s popular, and the administration is good at getting its message out.
Meanwhile, Raslan has only lived in Ansonia for 2.5 years.
Vinnie Scarlata, a Republican member of the school board, was a “Team Cassetti” supporter but broke ties with the mayor.
He said a “win at all costs” attitude permeates through some of the mayor’s supporters.
“I can’t tell if they’re afraid of losing or if they’re that pompous to think that whatever they do is OK. It’s hard to tell,” Scarlata said.
Marini said the mayor has instructed supporters to concentrate on the progress the administration has made in Ansonia. That’s what matters to voters, Marini said.
“The Mayor calls on his supporters to stay positive and focus on the tremendous progress Ansonia has made over the last four years,” he said.
Raslan said there were other ways Hunt could have employed to shed light on the expired registration.
“What Ryan did was wrong, it’s not the Ansonia way,” Raslan said. “I think most residents of Ansonia would tell the person if they somehow discovered their car registration was expired, instead of following them, calling the police, then coming to take a photo in an attempt to embarrass them.”
Hunt has no regrets.
“Be honest, like your slogan says. Be transparent. If you want to be the icon or the leader of a government organization, be honest, be transparent,” he said. “Do what you’re asking your population to do. If you’re not breaking the law, what do you have to worry about?”
By The Way
Law enforcement experts said it’s not that uncommon for a person to call and report on another person’s registration. But it usually happens in domestic situations, such as when a relationship is crumbling.
For a caller to actually follow someone in a vehicle and to keep relaying information for such a low-level motor vehicle violation is unusual, they said. A caller may follow and do that for a suspected drunk driver, or a car involved in a hit and run.
The Ansonia officer was within his rights to question Raslan, according to Justin T. Smith of Duffy Law, LLC in New Haven.
“In the particular facts as you’ve described them, the police likely would have been within their rights. They had information the vehicle may have been unregistered. They saw the vehicle, they pulled up behind it. It wouldn’t have taken much for them to check the plates at that point and confirm that information,” Smith said.
Ansonia Police Chief Kevin Hale also said the response to the call was handled properly.
The officer used his discretion, advising Raslan not to drive the car and to get his paperwork straight. That’s perfectly acceptable.
“Police officers have a great deal of discretion in carrying out their job and while this officer approached this situation in the way that he thought best, other officers might have taken a different approach,” Hale said.
A Timeline Of How This Story Came Together
Monday, Sept 11:
A tipster told The Valley Indy Raslan was driving an unregistered car. A photo showing Raslan and a police officer was submitted.
Wednesday, Sept. 13:
The Valley Indy interviewed Raslan about the police encounter. Raslan said he felt like he had been followed. He shared a photo of a person on a motorcycle who had taken his picture.
Thursday, Sept. 14:
The Valley Indy requested records of the call from Ansonia police. Ansonia police released audio recordings from the call.
Friday, Sept. 15:
The Valley Indy shared those recordings with Raslan and John Marini, the treasurer of Mayor Cassetti’s re-election campaign.
As The Valley Indy continued to interview people, Ryan Hunt called and outed himself as the caller and photographer. The Valley Indy interviewed him, then reached to Raslan asking for another interview Monday.
Monday, Sept. 18 and Tuesday, Sept. 19: Additional interviews and multiple revisions to story. Hunt submitted a letter to the editor, Raslan submitted an email The Valley Indy published as a letter to the editor.