When the independent State Marshal Commission was formed following the elimination of the sheriff's system, state officials promised a new day, with the lucrative process-serving jobs awarded based on qualifications, not patronage.
But when the commission met earlier this year to appoint 21 new marshals, its choices included the mayor of Rocky Hill, several insiders already working for marshals, and four members of Republican town committees, including a former Stamford pastry chef who is also the lieutenant governor's nephew.
Eight applicants who scored either 100 or 99 on the mandatory marshal's test were passed over by the commission, while four who scored 84 or lower — with 80 being the cutoff — were given badges.
Two of the high-scorers said they were never even offered an interview, the second part of the hiring process.
"To almost ace the exam and then never get a call back, it's pretty obvious to me that the fix was in," Craig Sinon of Madison, who scored 99, said in an interview this week.
Among the men scoring 84 or lower was an East Hartford resident whose grade was lower than three-quarters of the 245 applicants, but who also listed as a reference the former top official of the state Republican Party, Herbert J. Shepardson — who now serves as chairman of the marshal commission.
Also chosen as a marshal was John Corelli of Stamford, the pastry chef at his family's business until it closed a few years ago. In addition to his relationship to Lt. Gov. Michael Fedele, Corelli serves on the Stamford Republican Town Committee, as does another appointee, George Christiansen.
Fedele said Thursday he did nothing to help his nephew get the job.
"I was aware that John got selected but I didn't get involved with this at all," Fedele said. "It was something that John wanted to do and he worked hard for and I'm proud of him."
Fedele said he didn't call anyone from the commission and never spoke to Shepardson about Corelli's application.
Corelli, who also is a part-time constable in Stamford, did not list Fedele as a reference. The lieutenant governor is not directly involved in selecting marshals, although the governor appoints a member of the marshal commission, and Corelli acknowledged on his application that he had donated money to Gov. M. Jodi Rell's 2006 campaign.
Under state law, any person who works for or contributes to someone with appointing authority for the marshal commission is not eligible to be a state marshal for two years, which would make Corelli's donation far enough in the past to make him eligible.
Corelli said he purposely didn't list Fedele as a reference to avoid any appearance of favoritism. Corelli said that when he went for his interview he submitted references from 15 attorneys for whom he had done work as a constable and never mentioned his connection to Fedele.
"He [Fedele] had no bearing on this whatsoever," Corelli said. "I worked hard to get the job and it took a long time to do it."
Shepardson said he became aware that Corelli was related to the lieutenant governor after he was interviewed but that he never talked to anyone, including Fedele, about it and the relationship didn't influence his decision to appoint Corelli.
Corelli scored a 91 on the marshal's test, a lower score than at least six other applicants in Fairfield County, records show. Although Corelli wasn't close to the best score, he did better on the test than several other people who also were appointed, records show.
Three men chosen to be marshals scored 84 on the test and one scored an 83, records show.
• Peter Privitera of Wethersfield, who listed three current state marshals as references, including his boss, State Marshal Joseph Antinerella.
• Anthony LaRosa, the mayor of Rocky Hill, who listed now-deceased state Rep. Richard Tulisano as a reference.
• Keith Niziankiewicz of East Hartford, who listed Shepardson and East Hartford Mayor Melody Currey as references.
• Donald Cipriano of Waterbury, a process server who had the lowest score of the 21 appointees, with an 83. He had a lower score than 86 percent of those who took the test and were not hired. Six of the people who had perfect scores or a 99 on the test were also from New Haven County.
LaRosa said he did not know why he was chosen. "I know I did very well on the interview," he said. "I do well in interviews. I don't do well on tests normally. Going back to college I've had that problem."
Niziankewicz, the owner of Connecticut Process Serving, a private company in Bolton, said Shepardson was not the commission's chairman when he listed him as a reference. He said he was not sure why he was selected despite his low score.
"I really don't know," he said. "The commission interviewed me and that's all I can say."
The test was given in New Britain in December 2007 and 210 people passed it, records show.
Two members of the commission, plus Executive Director James Neil, interviewed 53 candidates in November 2008.
Shepardson, appointed by Rell to the commission last September, said he didn't have any hand in narrowing the field to 53. He also said it was his understanding that anyone who got a perfect score automatically was interviewed.
"All I can tell you is that the process was somewhat based on geography and how many marshals were needed in each county," Shepardson said.
He likened the test scores to the bar exam, a first step in getting a job but not the only one.
"I think you'll find a lot of the people who were chosen had experience working either as constables, process servers or were working for marshals already," Shepardson said.
He acknowledged he had no explanation for why four Republican town committee members were chosen, adding only that there "were some Democrats, too."
"I think the process worked the way it was supposed to. Partisanship had nothing to do with it," Shepardson said. "I'm very happy with the quality of the people we chose and I know the full commission is as well."
Waterbury firefighter Vincent Dwyer, who scored a 99 on the test, said he was "pumped" when he got a letter saying he was one of the high scorers. He called the commission's office several times and was told that they weren't hiring off the list.
"That I knocked down the test and then never even got a call just blows me away," Dwyer said.
Sinon said he got a call from James Neil about a month after the test, telling him he also had scored 99 and to expect a call to come in for an interview.
After months went by without hearing anything, Sinon contacted Neil, who wrote back that the commission was still deciding how many marshals to hire in each county before conducting interviews.
It was the last he heard from the commission until he read recently that 21 new marshals had been hired.
In disgust, Sinon wrote a letter to Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, suggesting that he investigate the blatant cronyism.
"I would suggest to you that the cronyism problem with the marshal service starts at the hiring stage," Sinon wrote. "Until that is addressed, the problem won't be corrected."
- Contact the Courant's investigative desk at courant.com/investigativedesk.