Hugh McQuaid photo

As Sen. Len Suzio was holding his second press conference in opposition to an inmate early release program, the Malloy administration was blasting him as a hypocrite for advocating the early release of a white collar criminal who’d served only 10 percent of his sentence.

Suzio was in Meriden Friday outside the EZ Mart, where 70-year-old shop owner Ibrahim Ghazal was murdered during a robbery in June. Police have charged Frankie Resto with his murder.

Resto was recently released from prison and earned 199 days risk reduction credits, according to the Department of Corrections. However, not all of the credits were applied, and unlike most inmates, Resto served 91 percent of his sentence. Typically prisoners serve 85 percent of their sentence before they are released on probation.

Suzio was collecting signatures for a petition to suspend the program with Ghazal’s son. But just weeks before Ghazal’s murder, Suzio was recommending the program be used to release John Papandrea, a Meriden resident sentenced to prison on embezzlement charges.

On June 12 Suzio wrote this letter on behalf of Papandrea, whom he said would still be a productive member of society when he gets out of prison.

“I believe that it makes more sense for the residents of Connecticut to have nonviolent prisoners released early versus those with a violent record,” Suzio wrote.

Michael P. Lawlor, Gov. Dannel Malloy’s criminal justice adviser, released a statement calling the Meriden Republican a hypocrite and saying that Papandrea’s crimes impacted many people.

“The hypocrisy of Sen. Suzio’s actions is that much more outrageous when you consider he recently requested that a convicted felon be reìeased after serving only 10 percent of his sentence. Inmate John Papandrea was convicted for a Bernie Madoff-like crime of embezzling over $1 million from his employer in order to buy artwork for his home,” Lawlor said.

The company Papandrea had been working for was forced to lay off 18 employees because of the embezzlement, he said.

“Does he not think anyone was hurt by Mr. Papandrea’s actions? Maybe he can tell that to the innocent employees who lost their jobs,” Lawlor said.

Hugh McQuaid photo

Asked about Papandrea, Suzio said he was a non-violent criminal who received an unusually severe sentence. He accused the administration of trying to confuse the media on the issue, which he said has nothing to do with non-violent criminals.

“Don’t let them play rope-a-dope with you. That’s what they want to do. They want to shuck and jive and get you off the issue because they know they’ve got problems,” Suzio said. “… We’re not talking about non-violent offenders and to confuse that and let the administration get away with that confusion is a disservice to the public.”

In issuing the statement, Lawlor said he was just “pointing out the obvious inconsistencies” in Suzio’s position on the early release program. But he said Suzio’s decision to hold a press event with a family member of a man who’s been recently murdered was “outrageous” and “sort of a last straw.”

“Sen. Suzio ought to be ashamed of himself. His insistence on spreading inaccurate information about this case does nothing but exploit a tragedy, its victim, and its victim’s family. It should be beneath the office he holds,” Lawlor said.

But Ghazal’s son Fapyo said he agreed with Suzio’s position on the early release law.

“What Mr. Senator said about how he left the prison—he left the prison to kill my dad. That’s what I believe and I agree with what he said about it,” Fapyo Ghazal said. “If this guy, he were sitting in prison now, he not kill my dad.”

Suzio said, as far as he was concerned, the program allowed Ghazal to be killed.

“I would say, without the early release law, Mr. Ghazal would be alive today. And I think that’s what the media ought to focus on,” Suzio said.

Following the press conference some of the onlookers gathered at the gas station signed Suzio’s petition. One of them was 69-year-old Meriden resident Dusty Beaty, who knew the late Ghazal.

Beaty said he would frequently stop by Ghazal’s shop after the bars closed and chat with the shopkeeper. For simplicity’s sake he said he referred to Ibrahim Ghazal as “Joe.”

“Nicest guy in the world. Everybody liked him,” Beaty said.

Though he signed the early release petition, the risk reduction credit program was not Beaty’s most pressing criminal justice concern.

“The only thing I don’t agree with is the fricken state abolishing the death penalty. I don’t agree with that,” he said.

Beaty said he thought Resto deserved the death penalty if he’s convicted of killing Ghazal.

“Dig a hole, kill him, and put him in there,” he said.