CT labor department 'examining' Vazzano arrest warrant

Photo of Brian Lockhart
John Vazzano, of Trumbull, is sworn in during his arraignment on bribery charges in Superior Court in Bridgeport, Conn. on Thursday, February 25, 2021.

John Vazzano, of Trumbull, is sworn in during his arraignment on bribery charges in Superior Court in Bridgeport, Conn. on Thursday, February 25, 2021.

Brian A. Pounds / Hearst Connecticut Media

The state Department of Labor is looking into whether it needs to take action on any of the hiring and wage practices described in an arrest warrant affidavit for restaurateur John Vazzano.

The labor department, which enforces fair wage and employment standards, in a statement told Hearst Connecticut Media it is “examining the arrest warrant to determine next steps.”

Vazzano was arrested on bribery and other charges Feb. 17. He is accused of allegedly interfering in a sexual assault investigation of two longtime staffers at his Vazzy’s establishment on Broadbridge Road in Bridgeport.

The affidavit, which was signed by an investigator from the Office of the Chief State’s Attorney, includes summaries of witness interviews and other information collected in the investigation that suggested Vazzano was paying some workers off-the-books in cash and keeping insufficient records.

In response, his lawyer, Edward Gavin, said, “John Vazzano has done nothing inappropriate with any employee.”

The labor department noted that it “had no prior record” of complaints against Vazzy’s.

Vazzy’s dishwasher Jaime Sena was arrested and charged last February 2020 with sexually assaulting a 16-year-old female co-worker. An arrest warrant was also issued for a second suspect in the case, cook Jose Tsenkush, who remains at large.

According to the arrest warrant affidavit Vazzano told an investigator that he paid Sena “by allowing him to take the restaurant's empty deposit bottle returns.” Vazzano also told police he did not believe he filled out W9 forms (an Internal Revenue Service form) for Sena and Tsenkush and “probably” did not pay them using his restaurant’s “payroll account service.”

The original Vazzy's restaurant on Broadbridge Road in Bridgeport, Conn. on Thursday, February 18, 2021.

The original Vazzy's restaurant on Broadbridge Road in Bridgeport, Conn. on Thursday, February 18, 2021.

Brian A. Pounds / Hearst Connecticut Media

“Vazzano stated he paid Tsenkush with checks from his restaurant’s People’s United Bank checking account under the name Mickey Perez, Michael Perez and/or Miguel Perez. The seized check ledger does not document the issuance of any checks to Mickey Perez, Michael Perez, and/or Miguel Perez,” it also says in the warrant.

In addition, the unidentified girl who filed the criminal complaint against Sena and Tsenkush told an investigator she worked “under the table” and Vazzy’s “paid her in cash at the end of each work shift.”

“The seized spiral bound restaurant’s check ledger does not document the issuance of any checks to ‘V,’” reads the affidavit, referring to the victim.

The affidavit also notes: “The Connecticut Department of Labor records for Vazzy’s Restaurant did not list Jaime Sena, Jose Tsenkush and ‘V’ as wage earners.”

Investigating officers also relayed that two people interviewed in the case — the teenage victim’s father and then-Bridgeport Police Chief Armando Perez — indicated they understood Vazzano had undocumented immigrants working for him.

The victim’s father said Vazzano told him of one undocumented staffer. And Perez, a friend of Vazzano’s, told investigating officers “he believes John Vazzano’s concerns over V’s criminal complaint stems from Vazzano’s employees being illegal immigrants.”

Perez was arrested last September for and subsequently pleaded guilty to charges unrelated to Vazzano — cheating on the 2018 police chief’s exam that got him the job. Perez declined to be interviewed by the Chief State’s Attorney’s office, according to the affadavit.

The Office of the Chief State’s Attorney declined comment when asked if it was taking any action over Vazzano’s employment and wage practices or whether it had forwarded any evidence to other agencies like the state Department of Labor.

Depending on what action, if any, that latter agency takes regarding Vazzano, other government entities could become involved. The labor department said that “all workers, regardless of immigration status, are afforded Connecticut Department of Labor protection from wage exploitation. ... Employers are responsible for filing complete and accurate tax, payroll, employment and other information with state and federal entities. If an employer falsifies documents or fails to follow the law, they can be subject to fines and penalties from both state and federal agencies.”

Staff Writer Daniel Tepfer contributed to this report.