HARTFORD ——Even in the loosely regulated, intensely political business of running parking lots in the city, Abraham Giles' no-bid deals with city hall stood out, the prosecution said Friday in Mayor Eddie A. Perez's corruption trial.
And at no time did Giles, the 83-year-old North End ward heeler,prosper more than when the mayor needed him the most — during the run-up to the mayor's re-election bid in 2007.
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And after the city bought the equally squalid parking area at 1214 Main St., officials installed Giles as the operator for the still bargain-basement rate of $1,000 a month. Six months later, a national parking company agreed to pay more than $4,100 a month for the same lot when the Hartford Parking Authority finally took over management of the land and put it out to bid in the spring of 2007.
Surface parking lots have been a kind of political currency in Hartford for decades. James Kopencey, the former executive director of the quasi-public Hartford Parking Authority, testified Friday that the agency was at odds with city hall over who should run those parking lots,
He said the mayor's office felt the city should retain them and the parking authority believed that its jurisdiction over parking garages and on-street metered parking should extend to the surface lots, many of which are in scruffy condition.
The lots at 1143 and 1214 Main St., for example, occupy a no-man's land between the edge of downtown and the North End, and they surround one of the most enduring symbols of blight in Hartford, the long-vacant structure at 1161 Main St. known as the "Butt Ugly Building.''
The mayor faces, among other charges, a larceny-by extortion count that arises from a demand for a $100,000 payment that Giles allegedly made of developer Joseph Citino, who wanted to buy 1143 Main St. Citino had proposed razing the decrepit "Butt Ugly" building and putting up a condo and shopping complex. The prosecution said the mayor condoned the payment and backed Giles' attempt to collect it — an assertion the defense denies.
When defense lawyer Hubert Santos objected to a recitation of facts surrounding 1214 Main St., prosecutor Michael Gailor said he was simply trying to show the difference between how the mayor's office treated Giles and how it treated Citino.
After Citino balked at paying off Giles, Gailor said, city hall put numerous conditions on Citino's request to operate parking areas on his development site, such as requiring the addition of paving, lighting, drainage, catch basins, fencing and parking attendants, but made no such demands of Giles at either 1143 or 1214 Main St.
Santos sought to make the point that while it might be the case that Giles didn't have up-to-date licenses or permits to operate 1143 Main St., he was certainly not the only parking lot operator in the city who was out of compliance.
"Over the years, have people run parking lots without licenses?'' Santos asked witness Nettie Starkes, administrative clerk in the office of licenses and inspection.
"Yes,'' she replied.
Defense lawyer Hope Seeley indicated that Giles did have a 1991 license to operate the lot at 1143 Main St. While that agreement may have expired years ago, Seeley and Santos have suggested that Giles gave the strong impression to everyone, including the mayor, that he had all the permission he needed.