Aging Port sex offender’s request to be freed from supervision so he can return to Italy denied again
Not long after pleading no contest in 2001 to repeatedly sexually assaulting a girl when she was 9 and 10, and facing a certain prison sentence, Burt Briganti, now 71 and living in Port Washington, skipped town.
On the run for two-and-a-half years, Briganti fled the country and found a new home in South America, where he may have lived out his years a free man if not for his desire to return to his native Italy.
Briganti was en route from South America to Europe in late 2003 or early 2004 when the plane he was on made an unscheduled stop in Florida, perhaps for a mechanical problem, Ozaukee County District Attorney Adam Gerol recounted for a judge last week. That prompted a check of passengers and the discovery that Briganti was a fugitive wanted for years by Ozaukee County authorities.
That was the first time Briganti tried to escape his punishment, but not his last, although his subsequent attempts have been within the confines of the law.
Last week, having served 10 years in prison, Briganti found himself back where his case began 16 years ago — in an Ozaukee County courtroom, this time to ask Judge Joseph Voiland to commute the remainder of his sentence.
Briganti has completed his prison sentence but is only two-and-a-half years into a 15-year period of extended supervision by the Wisconsin Department of Corrections, the conditions of which prevent him from leaving the country.
“That amounts to a life sentence for Mr. Briganti,” his lawyer Frank Schiro said.
And as was the case so many years ago, Briganti, who according to Schiro is estranged from his son and ex-wife, wants desperately to return to Italy.
“Here in the U.S., I live out my days alone,” Briganti, who was born in Gatteo, Italy, and is a citizen of both that country and the United States, told Voiland in an Italian accent. “I have no family in Wisconsin. I have only one brother left (in Italy). My hope is to see him again before I leave this earth.
“I am a very lonely person. I would like to start a new life.”
Briganti, who appeared in court last week well groomed, trim and wearing a gray suit, filed a motion under Wisconsin’s compassionate release statute, which gives judges the authority to commute sentences for convicts with serious, generally terminal, illnesses, as well as for elderly inmates. Schiro said his client is a cancer survivor who has suffered numerous strokes, and argued his sentence is unduly harsh.
“This man has served his (prison) sentence,” Schiro said. “We’re just asking for a compassionate consideration so he can be released from supervision.”
Noting this is the fourth time Briganti has asked a judge to modify his sentence, Gerol argued against his motion and Voiland rejected it, concluding that the statute allowing sentences to be modified does not apply to Briganti’s case and that his sentence was not unduly harsh.
Although 16 years divorced from his crimes, Briganti still cannot escape them.
Briganti was charged on Oct. 12, 2000, with first-degree sexual assault of a child and sexual assault of a child more than three times after his victim told police he assaulted her multiple times between Sept. 26, 1999, and Sept. 29, 2000, by rubbing against her while she was at his house for piano lessons. She said Briganti, a relative who lived in Mequon at the time, also assaulted her once at her home.
When questioned by police officers, Briganti admitted he would place his hands on the girl’s hips and rub against her “because he had the urge and it made him feel good,” according to the criminal complaint.
Briganti’s case moved along fairly quickly. He immediately posted the $5,000 bail set by the late judge Walter Swietlik, waived his right to a preliminary hearing and on May 14, 2001, pleaded to the two felony charges.
Still free on bail, Briganti was ordered to return to court in July to be sentenced. Instead he fled.
Years later, on May 6, 2004, after he was arrested in Florida and now also guilty of felony bail jumping, Briganti was sentenced by then-Ozaukee County Circuit Judge Tom Wolfgram to 10 years in prison and 15 years of extended supervision.
Briganti, who is registered as a sex offender, was released from prison in December 2013. That’s when he moved to Port Washington.
In arguing last week that his client’s sentence was unduly harsh, Schiro said that a 2001 letter from then-District Attorney Sandy Williams indicated she intended to recommend Briganti be sentenced to two years in prison and three years of extended supervision. Ultimately, however, Williams did not recommend a specific sentence.
“Even in the mind of the DA, this wasn’t viewed as a case that warranted something as harsh as this,” Schiro said.
In a memo to the court, Schiro wrote, “Based on the criminal complaint, although clearly child sex crimes are abhorrent and serious, Mr. Briganti and the minor child were both fully clothed during the criminal acts and Mr. Briganti did not engage in any touching of the minor underneath the minor child’s clothes ....”
But Gerol emphasized the seriousness of Briganti’s crimes and said the victim as well as the public are right to expect that he serve the entirety of his sentence.
“He’s still being supervised and the public is still being protected,” said Gerol, who also questioned whether Briganti is old enough or sick enough to qualify for compassionate release.