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Perez Probe: Many Leads, Few Useful

Josh Kovner and Dave Altimari

May 09, 2010

When law officers who were dogging Mayor Eddie A. Perez heard about a list of vehicles that were exempt from parking tickets in the city, they went after it, just as they went after thousands of other documents in an 18-month pursuit of corruption in the Perez administration.

The parking list is good for a chuckle: Interspersed between the police cars and city dump trucks are the vehicles of people whose rationale for ticket immunity is less clear, like all nine city council members and a contractor on the city's minority-owned business list.

"I feel important," said Abe Glassman, a state marshal, who is on the no-ticket list even though state marshals don't get ticketed anyway when they're on court business and are displaying their official placard on the dashboard.

But like the thousands of other documents and records snagged in a very wide law-enforcement net, the no-ticket list didn't lead anywhere. Neither did a review of all the insurance companies engaged by contractors working on the citywide school construction project. The investigators sought the information to see whether the insurance work was steered to an insurance agency owned by Councilwoman Veronica Airey-Wilson. They found that the work was distributed all over the map and that Airey-Wilson's agency got none of it.

In fact, the inspectors from the chief's state's attorney's office got their best stuff Perez's belated payment of $20,000 for $40,000 worth of home-improvement work on his Bloomfield Avenue house by a connected city contractor two days into the probe in 2007.

After an 18-month grand jury investigation that included three dozen subpoenas, boxes of records, and scores of interviews, it's still the best stuff they have.

The allegations include a quid quo pro between Perez and contractor Carlos Costa, who said he didn't expect to be paid for the work he did for Perez, chalking it up to the cost of doing business in Hartford, and charges involving Perez and power broker Abraham L. Giles. Perez is accused of giving Giles lucrative parking-lot deals and a gig that paid Giles $90,000 over two years not to move the possessions of evicted tenants all in exchange for Giles' political support. The allegations form the basis of the mayor's bribery and larceny trial, which begins Wednesday.

In all, the investigators for Chief State's Attorney Kevin Kane ran down a vast array of tips and leads as they pursued the kind of case political corruption in Connecticut that had become the exclusive province of federal law officers over the last 10 years.

Inspector Michael Sullivan and his partners drafted subpoenas demanding years worth of e-mails from development director John Palmieri and other city officials. They also sought everything from the payment vouchers of the company contracted to build new schools, Diggs Construction Inc. which hired three people who had served on the city bid committee that chose them to the licensing and construction records of the Carioca Club, a city nightclub owned by Costa.

A performer at the club had received a key to the city from Perez, and a city electrical inspector responsible for checking the club had had work done on his home by Costa, who had millions of dollars in city contracts.

The probe resulted in the arrest of Perez, 53, Hartford's three-term Democratic mayor and the first Latino to hold the post, on felony charges that include bribery, fabricating evidence, larceny by extortion and coercion.

Costa also allegedly performed free or discounted work for Airey-Wilson and former city contract-compliance officer Edward Lazu, both of whom were charged in the corruption case. Costa was charged with bribery and fabricating evidence, and Giles was charged with criminal attempt to commit first-degree larceny. Hartford businessman Carlos Lopez was charged with voter fraud for allegedly voting three times in Hartford despite living in Farmington.

The extortion and coercion charges against Perez relate to allegations that he held up a city project to help Giles get a $100,000 payment from developer Joseph Citino to vacate a parking lot Giles was running. The payment was never made and the development which would have replaced the vacant, decrepit structure known as the "butt-ugly building" at 1161 Main St. with a commercial and residential project never got done.

Citino, who is expected to be a key witness for the prosecution, is a three-time convicted felon. He was convicted in 1988 of conspiracy to sell a stolen firearm; of transfer and delivery of counterfeit money in 1989; and of sale of narcotics in 1991.

Perez's defense lawyers, Hubert Santos and Hope Seeley, are expected, among other things, to try to refute the notion of a quid pro quo between Perez on the one hand and Costa and Giles on the other.

Santos has argued in court papers that both men already had access to the mayor before any work was done at the mayor's house, and before Giles supported Perez in the 2007 mayoral race. Santos also has argued that the state's decision to combine the Costa and Giles allegations into a single trial turns what he said should have been a straightforward case into a "marathon." He said the sheer broadness of the case is unfair to the defense.

But the prosecution says Perez benefited materially and politically from a relationship with the two men, and that, in return, he intervened on their behalf. For example, when city officials wanted to pull Costa's performance bond over problems with Costa's work on the $5.3 million Park Street restoration project, Perez allegedly had the officials back off. The bond was never pulled.

Perez has long said he welcomes a trial. As he told a crowd of his supporters at a press conference after his second arrest in early September 2009: "This has been a one-sided process. It's been a secret process. It's been a trial in the media. It's been a trial of public opinion. All of the facts are not before the public and not before a court."

"Truth is on my side," he said then. "I committed no crime. ... I want my day in court."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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