Longtime pillars of the community are now pariahs living in fear, hiding behind locked gates and security guards amid the public outrage over bonuses paid with taxpayer bailout money.
Payouts by American International Group Inc. appear to have put a face on the economic struggles the country faces, and the anger targeting AIG executives living in this ritzy area of Connecticut is palpable. Death threats have been pouring in since the brouhaha broke, the company said, and its workers are taking no chances.
"It's scary," one executive said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he feared retribution. "People are very, very nervous for their security."
The financial products division is in Wilton in Fairfield County, and many of the company's leaders live in large homes on the "Gold Coast," an area known more for golf courses and sweeping views of Long Island Sound than for the police cars that now regularly patrol the well-kept streets.
Corporate officials advised employees in a memo later posted on Gawker.com to avoid wearing the company logo, in an effort to keep from drawing attention. Workers were also urged to travel in pairs at night and park in well-lit areas.
Typifying the preoccupation with AIG payouts, a busload of activists — outnumbered 2-to-1 by reporters and photographers — protested outside the homes of AIG executives in Connecticut Saturday.
About 40 protesters parked at a cul-de-sac Saturday afternoon and walked to the Fairfield home of Douglas Poling. They were met on the curb by two security guards, and one activist read a letter detailing the financial struggles that many Connecticut residents have faced. The group then left the note in Poling's mailbox.
Polling already agreed to forfeit his bonus, but the protesters want AIG executives to do more to help working families.
AIG said Friday that at least three executives who received bonuses planned to return the money, including James Haas and Doug Poling, both residents of Fairfield County.
"However someone may feel about the appropriateness of the retention payments, there is nothing appropriate about the threats that people have made to and about employees," company spokesman Mark Herr said in a statement. Haas and Poling have not responded to requests for comment from The Associated Press.
The Polings help out charities including a homeless shelter, theaters and a school, according to The Connecticut Post. At the house, a large white Colonial on a cul-de-sac with all the trappings of suburban prosperity — green shutters, a wood-shingled roof and an invisible fence for dogs — a police car pulled up Friday afternoon and talked to a security guard.
Officer Joe Kalson said that he drives by two or three times a day as of late and that other officers patrol the area, as well.
Organizers of the bus protest noted that there are no plans to trespass and that only a small group planned to get off the bus at each stop.
The protest is an attempt to let people suffering from loss of jobs or homes tell their stories directly to AIG executives, said organizer Jon Green, director of Connecticut Working Families, a coalition of labor unions and other groups.
"There is a human cost to the economic meltdown that we're experiencing," Green said.