Contractor Questioned About Why He Prepared Bill If He 'Didn't Expect' To Get Paid By Mayor

The Hartford Courant

Contractor Carlos Costa struggled on the witness stand today to reconcile his testimony in Mayor Eddie A. Perez' bribery trial with what he told corruption investigators and a grand jury in 2007 and 2008.

"Did you tell Inspector (Michael) Sullivan that you put the mayor's bill together (for an estimated $40,000 worth of home-improvement work) 'as you went along' with the job?" defense lawyer Hubert Santos asked Costa this morning.

Costa said he may have and added that the he also may have said the $20,000 bill represented "everything" that was done at the mayor's house.

"But you testified here that you never expected to get paid -- why did you prepare a bill as you went along?" Santos said.

Costa, showing the first cracks in his composure during nearly two and a half days on the witness stand, said the day Sullivan and other law officers converged on his Airport Road office was a day he never wanted to experience again. He said may have said things under duress that he later corrected.

Costa said the truth was that he prepared a deeply discounted bill for the mayor nearly two years after the job at the Perez house was substantially finished, and that he didn't keep records of the job because he wanted better access to Perez at city hall and didn't intend to charge the mayor for the work.

"So did you lie to Inspector Sullivan?" Santos asked.

"I would not necessarily call it a lie," Costa said. "I was just trying to justify putting the bill together."

In his testimony Monday, Carlos had told Santos that he did the work at the Perez household to gain "conditional access'' to the mayor.

"Did you intend for the countertops to be a payoff to the mayor?'' Santos asked.

Prosecutor Michael Gailor objected, and Judge Julia Dewey prevented Costa from answering, saying the issue was a legal question for the jury.

Santos then got Costa to acknowledge that he did the work at the mayor's house so he could call on Perez for help with the troubled Park Street reconstruction project. Costa said other city officials were trying to unfairly fire him and that his reputation and livelihood were in jeopardy.

"If you were in the right, you expected to be able to call Eddie and try to request his aid in resolving the problem, right?'' Santos said.

"Yes,'' replied Costa.

"You weren't asking for Eddie's help with getting work in the city, right? Because you had confidence in your ability to compete for that work and you always got those jobs fair and square?'' Santos said.

"Yes,'' said Costa.

The contractor agreed with Santos, however, that he already had access to the mayor, by virtue of his role as a major fundraiser and family friend.

"So in the fall of 2006, the mayor came up to you at a (Spanish American Merchants Association) event on Park Street and said, 'Papi, I want a bill.' ''

Costa said that was true – but he acknowledged he didn't present a bill to the mayor until Feb. 28, 2007. He said he had to pull as many receipts and records together as he could find to come up with an invoice.

It's the prosecution's position that when it became clear that a bill had to be produced, Costa grossly underestimated the cost of the job, and even reduced the cost further, from about $28,000 to $20,000, after the mayor balked at the price. The mayor at first told investigators that he had already paid the bill, and then went out after his first interview with the law officers and took out a second mortgage to pay Costa, according to arrest records.

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