As he awaits trial for seven arson cases in state and federal court, Fair Haven developer Angelo Reyes passed a quiet evening at his brother’s bar Wednesday, greeted by a handful of friends and supporters who attended a party in his honor.
Reyes sat at the bar inside Porky’s on Grand Avenue Wednesday night, greeting friends and supporters who had paid $35 to attend a “testimonial party” for him. The event was organized by Brian McGrath, business manager for the Chapel West Special Services District and a former city official.
The party was sparsely attended. It offered a respite moment amid dark days for Reyes. Reyes was once lauded for transforming Fair Haven through real estate development, and for turning his life around after serving time on drug-dealing charges, then helping revitalize the neighborhood he grew up in. Reyes may yet serve more time, though, if it’s proven that he paid people to burn down Fair Haven properties.
Reyes has been charged with torching buildings to make way for his development plans. The feds have secured the testimony of a father and son who say Reyes hired them to burn down buildings, including Reyes’ laundromat on Grand Avenue.
Wednesday’s party was an opportunity for a different kind of testimony. The event was billed as a “Testimonial party honoring Angelo Reyes for his many accomplishments in promoting and revitalizing the Fair Haven neighborhood.”
“So many buildings that were boarded up are no longer boarded up anymore because of Angelo,” McGrath said. He was seated at the end of Porky’s sparkling blue bar with Porky himself—Angelo’s brother Wilson—sipping off a glass of gin and Italian bitters. Jeopardy was playing on the TV above the bar.
McGrath (pictured) and Wilson were among only a handful of people in the bar at 7 p.m., an hour after the party was scheduled to begin. McGrath said he’d given out nearly 200 tickets for people to sell, but didn’t have a count on how many had been sold or how many people would attend. He said he’d even given a ticket to the mayor, telling him, “You owe me $35.” (The mayor and his aides did not attend the event.)
McGrath helped himself to a bowl of salad from a spread that included rice, chicken, and pork sliders.
“I had a lot of phone calls,” said Angelo. He sat at the bar, near the door, drinking wine with his wife, Irma. “I have a lot of support.”
“This is my rock right here,” he said, grasping Irma.
“I look forward to the trial,” he said. “And I look forward to building 40 more houses in New Haven.”
As the evening wore on, people filtered in and out. McGrath moved to the pool table, where he held court and regaled everyone in ear shot with tow truck tales from his days as head of the city’s traffic and parking department.
Rafael Fuentes (pictured) stood at the bar with a bottle of Coors Light and reminisced about growing up with Reyes, working on cars late into the night and then taking them drag racing at tracks in New York and New Hampshire.
Carlos Eyzaguirre, a staffer at the Economic Development Corporation, leaned against the wall in the back, watching the pool game.
“He’s done a lot for the community,” Eyzaguirre said of Reyes. “We’ve been friends for many years.”
“Regardless of anything else in his personal life,” Reyes has a strong love for New Haven, Eyzaguirre said. He noted the charges against Reyes have not yet been proven. “Until we hear otherwise, we are going to support him.”
McGrath dismissed the arson allegations leveled by the government and witnesses. “I don’t believe those people. I don’t know who they are,” he said. “We weren’t there. We don’t even know.”
At 8:20 p.m. Fair Haven Alderwoman Migdalia Castro (at left in photo) and activist John Lugo walked in. Castro said she was there not for Reyes, but just because she lives nearby.
Castro helped herself to some chicken, rice, and salad before sitting down with a draft Corona.
“We were hoping for a bigger crowd,” McGrath said, looking around at the mostly empty bar.
“We never did get a massive crowd,” McGrath said the next day. He said there wouldn’t be much money from ticket sales left over after paying for the food. Whatever there was would go to Reyes to help pay his lawyer, McGrath said.
“More importantly, he saw that his friends are still his friends,” McGrath said. “It was nice that we did it.”