In Deal, Pleads No Contest To Aiding And Abetting Coercion
By JENNA CARLESSO
March 10, 2011
HARTFORD —— Carlos Costa, the key witness in the corruption trial of former Mayor Eddie A. Perez, agreed to a plea deal Thursday that will allow him to avoid prison.
Costa's no contest plea to a single misdemeanor charge of aiding and abetting coercion ends four years of investigations, charges and trials related to actions by Perez, most of which surrounded discounted improvements to the mayor's house performed by Costa, a city contractor.
Hartford Superior Court Judge David P. Gold sentenced Costa to a one-year suspended prison term and one year of conditional discharge. In pleading no contest, Costa didn't challenge the charges against him, but also didn't admit guilt.
As part of his conditional discharge, Costa must perform 100 hours of community service for a charitable or nonprofit organization.
"He's delighted to be done with this," William Gerace, Costa's attorney, said after the sentencing. "It's been a long three years."
Prosecutor Christopher Alexy noted Costa's cooperation during the grand jury investigation into Perez and the former mayor's four-week trial.
"The state believes conditional discharge is appropriate," he said.
Gerace said Costa has "suffered a great deal financially and emotionally" during the process, and that his client was not likely to offend again.
"I think his conduct … [measured] against Mayor Perez — it was relatively insignificant," Gerace said.
Costa, of USA Contractors, was originally charged with two counts of bribery, tampering with physical evidence and conspiracy to tamper with physical evidence.
During testimony at Perez's trial in May, Costa said he remodeled Perez's home without expecting to be paid and with the intent of getting the mayor's help with a $5.3 million project to reconstruct Park Street, a job mired in problems.
"It appeared to me to be the natural thing to do," he told Judge Julia Dewey last month. "I would like to express my sincere remorse."
Costa and other witnesses testified that Perez assigned Charles Crocini, director of capital projects in the mayor's office, to run interference for Costa and try to settle $1.7 million in claims from Costa for extra payments beyond the contract price, even though public works officials and an expert consultant said that most of the claims lacked merit.
The prosecution also asserted that Perez wanted North End politician Abraham Giles to be paid to vacate a parking lot on land crucial to a developer's plans for a condominium and shopping center.
Perez was convicted of five felony corruption charges in June and was subsequently sentenced to three years in prison. He resigned a week after the conviction and has filed an appeal.
Costa last month applied for accelerated rehabilitation, a special form of probation that would have allowed his record to be expunged if successfully completed. Dewey denied his application.
Dewey did, however, acknowledge Costa's cooperation in Perez's trial, saying that through his testimony he did "a great service to the state."
Two others charged in the corruption investigation were granted accelerated rehabilitation — then-city Councilwoman Veronica Airey-Wilson and city employee Edward Lazu.
Airey-Wilson was charged with evidence tampering. Lazu was accused of trading favorable treatment toward Costa for a new driveway at his home.
Giles pleaded guilty to attempted fourth-degree larceny by extortion and conspiracy to commit fourth-degree larceny by extortion in December. He received a six-month suspended prison sentence and one year conditional discharge, meaning he also avoided serving time in prison.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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