HARTFORD ——Mayor Eddie A. Perez abused his power and hurt the people of Hartford by taking a bribe in the form of free home remodeling work and trying to extort a payoff on behalf of a political ally, the prosecutor said in his final argument Wednesday in the mayor's corruption case.
Defense attorney Hubert Santos acknowledged that the mayor showed bad judgment in some instances, lied to an investigator, and was distracted by his wife's illness, but maintained that there was no corrupt agreement with the city contractor who did the home renovations, and no attempt to facilitate a payoff to North End politician Abraham Giles.
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Santos, in his closing remarks, did not revisit defense testimony that the mayor might have dyslexia and missed an e-mail sent to him by developer Joseph Citino saying that Giles was demanding a $100,000 payoff.
Santos did contend that Perez doesn't see all his e-mails.
"What's the bottom line — is Mayor Eddie Perez a crook? No. There's not too many crooks showing up every day at city hall, working for the betterment of the people of the city of Hartford," Santos said.
Prosecutor Michael Gailor told the jury that the mayor intentionally abused his position for his own financial gain.
"Ladies and gentleman, the loser in this case is the city of Hartford," Gailor told the jury.
The prosecutor said that the mayor accepted deeply discounted work on his home from contractor Carlos Costa, who Gailor said needed the mayor's help in holding onto a $5.3 million contract to reconstruct Park Street — a job plagued by delays and shoddy work.
"For that $40,000 investment in the mayor's house, Mr. Costa made $2.4 million," said Gailor, referring to the public money that Costa collected from the Park Street project after the mayor allegedly took steps in May 2006 to reverse an effort by other city officials to fire Costa from the job.
The prosecutor cited testimony from Costa and other state witnesses that the mayor assigned Charles Crocini, director of capital projects in the mayor's office, to run interference for Costa and to try to settle $1.7 million in claims that Costa was making for extra payments, beyond the contract price, even though public works officials and an expert consultant said that most of the claims lacked merit.
And Gailor said the mayor was complicit in Giles' demand for a $100,000 payment from Citino, the developer, to vacate a parking lot on land that Citino wanted to buy for a shopping and condominium complex.
The mayor wanted Giles taken care of because the longtime ward heeler had delivered crucial political support to the mayor in a divided North End political district in 2007, Gailor said.
Santos presented a different interpretation of the events. He said that Costa was a close family friend of Perez and his wife, Maria. He noted that Costa had testified that he wanted access to the mayor.
"Access is not an element of the crime of bribe-receiving, ladies and gentlemen," Santos said.
"Carlos Costa already had access to the mayor. That's not enough," said Santos, adding that people make political contributions for precisely that reason.
Costa, said Santos, was kept on the Park Street reconstruction job because it would have been far more expensive to fire him, in terms of further delays and the potential of a lawsuit by Costa.
Santos said that Maria Perez's illness distracted the mayor, but he still intended to pay Costa for the home renovation work.
Perez is accused of lying to investigators about paying for the home renovations, saying he'd settled the bill for the roughly $40,000 worth of work in early 2006. After being confronted by Inspector Michael Sullivan on June 27, 2007, Perez obtained a second mortgage and paid $20,000 to Costa the following month, two years after the work was done. Costa initially presented Perez with a bill of about $28,000 but discarded it after Perez balked at the price.
Santos said the the mayor lied because he was embarrassed to admit to Corporation Counsel John Rose, who was present during the meeting with Sullivan, that he hadn't paid for the home renovation work.
"And he lied because if this came out, it would be very politically embarrassing. This was the height of the political season in 2007. He didn't lie because he believed he had committed a crime," Santos said.
Santos attacked the credibility of Citino.
The prosecution "made a deal with the devil" in cultivating Citino, a convicted felon, as a key witness, Santos said.
He said that Perez didn't need Giles' help to succeed politically in Hartford. He said, in fact, that Giles was a liability because The Courant was writting about Giles' no-bid deals with the city.
Gailor said that Citino testified truthfully, and that his actions dealing with city hall showed he was committed to getting the project done, but feared financial loss when he was confronted with Giles' demand. The state contends that Giles never had a lease to operate a parking lot on the property, while the defense said that he had a license in the early 1990s and everyone at city hall assumed that he had a right to continue to operate the lot.
Citino testifed that the mayor told him he had to "take care"of Giles or there would be no deal; and said that Giles boasted as he damanded a payoff that he had the mayor's support and could "make or break" the project.