VERNON — From a young age, the Coventry girl was fascinated with the fire service, and when she was old enough, her parents put her in the town’s junior firefighting program, her mother said.
There, when the girl was 16, a Coventry fire lieutenant violated her trust and that of her parents by molesting her, the mother said in a statement read Thursday at Superior Court.
“I trusted that as my child pursued her interest to become a first-responder, the people in charge could be, in fact, trusted,” she said in a written statement read by Victim Services Advocate Mary Kozicki. “That turned out to be a huge mistake.”
The former lieutenant, Joe A. Fragoso of Root Road in Coventry, was sentenced at Superior Court in Rockville to two years in prison. Upon his release, he must register as a sex offender, Judge Jorge Simón ordered.
“For some reason, your prurient interests took over your sense of responsibility,” the judge told Fragoso in court.
Fragoso’s full sentence is 10 years in prison, suspended after two, followed by 10 years of probation. He pleaded guilty to second-degree sexual assault on Jan. 9.
Fragoso violated a section of the law that pertains to the sexual assault of a victim under 18 by a person in a position of power, like a teacher or coach. In other circumstances, 16 is considered the age at which a teenager is legally able to consent to sex. Neither the girl nor her mother is being identified because it is The Courant’s policy not to identify victims of sexual assault.
Fragoso, 36, looked straight ahead and blinked while being sentenced. He apologized for what he called a “lapse in judgment.”
The former chief of the Coventry Volunteer Fire Association, Joseph M. Carilli, also faces sexual assault charges stemming from allegations that he had an ongoing sexual relationship with another female member of the junior firefighter program. That girl became pregnant, according to court documents.
In an effort to get the minimum sentence of nine months for Fragoso, his lawyer, Donald J. Cretella Jr., reminded the judge that his client had no previous criminal record. He said that no physical force or coercion was used in the abuse and that two sex-offender evaluations of Fragoso concluded that he was not likely to re-offend.
“He’s not a sexual predator,” Cretella said.
The mother disagreed.
“You, Mr. Fragoso, were an adult in a position of power over my daughter. You should, as an adult, have done everything to protect her. Instead, you did everything to take advantage of this position,” she said in her statement to the court.
“You became a predator.”
She said that her daughter’s interest in the fire service started at age 4, when her sister stopped breathing one day. First-responders came in trucks with flashing lights and wailing sirens.
“As they came in the house, she stayed glued to the front window, looking at the big truck,” she said.
Her sister survived, but after that day, every time the little girl heard a siren, she was afraid that they were coming for her sister. Her family decided to bring her to the local fire station to help her overcome that fear, her mother said.
“This fear became a fascination,” she said. “While other kids her age watched shows like ‘Barney’ and ‘Dora the Explorer,’ she was watching ‘Trauma: Life in the ER,'” she said.
Becoming a junior firefighter seemed a natural fit, the mother said.
But the abuse suffered at the hands of Fragoso triggered bouts of angry outbursts and crying jags in her daughter, the woman said. Her grades plummeted. Town residents, including “so-called adults,” called the teen names on social media sites, she said.
“My daughter did not do anything to deserve this,” she said.
To counter character references that described Fragoso as “a man of integrity” and also the notion that the crime was an “isolated transgression in an otherwise stellar life,” prosecutor Elizabeth Leaming told the judge that Fragoso has been accused of sexually assaulting two other girls, one in the early 1990s and another who recanted her accusation. There was no arrest in either case.
He also has a “spotty” record with other fire departments in the state, she said, some of which reprimanded him or expelled him.
“He basically marched to the beat of his own drum,” Leaming said, citing records that show Fragoso got in trouble for regularly disobeying the commands of his leaders.
Fragoso has been a member of fire departments in Southbury, Watertown and Derby, and he was suspended in Derby, she said. He also was a paid employee of the state when he worked as a firefighter at the Connecticut Valley Hospital in Middletown.
He had been a fire lieutenant with the Coventry Volunteer Fire Association, also called the South Coventry Fire Department, since June 2012.
According to the warrant for Fragoso’s arrest, he exchanged photos and videos with the girl. In each case, they showed naked body parts or sexual acts. Fragoso, who is married and has children, also acknowledged sexual contact with the teen and other women, the warrant said.
The teenager told police that she and Fragoso engaged in sexual acts in the quartermaster’s room at the main firehouse, and at the South Street fire station. They had intercourse once, she said.
Fragoso denied to police that he and the teen had intercourse and said that he has erectile dysfunction, according to the warrant.
Still, the warrant reads, “He did say it is common for him to have condoms in his possession since he often cheats on his wife with other women. He said that he only really [performs a sex act on] those women because he is a giving person and because of his medical issues.”
In her statement, the teen’s mother said that her daughter has “put the pieces of her life back together” and is headed to college. She achieved her dream: She is a first-responder, the mother said.
As for Fragoso’s future, she said, “You will be judged by a higher power.”
By Christine Dempsey. Courant staff writer David Owens contributed to this story.