HARTFORD ——They've heard his voice on a tape secretly made by an investigator in which the prosecution asserts there are several big lies.
They've seen records of phone calls that Mayor Eddie A. Perez made to the two men at the center of the bribery and extortion charges against him — city contractor Carlos Costa, who allegedly did thousands of dollars in free work for the mayor, and developer Joseph Citino, who said that Perez confidant Abraham Giles tried, with the mayor's blessing, to extract a $100,000 payoff from Citino to leave a parking lot that the developer wanted to buy.
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But the one thing they haven't heard is the mayor speaking for himself, up there on the witness stand next to Superior Court Judge Julia Dewey.
Now, with the prosecution done with its case, and the defense set to begin its presentation Thursday morning, the question of whether Perez will testify remains open. Lawyers Hubert Santos and Hope Seeley declined to say Tuesday whether the mayor will take the stand.
Santos has said in court that the mayor wants to refute the charge that up to $40,000 worth of work was done on his house as a gift to prompt the mayor to help keep Costa on the troubled $5.3 million reconstruction of Park Street. On Inspector Michael Sullivan's tape recording, Perez tells Sullivan and Inspector Douglas Jowett that he had already paid Costa a year earlier. But later that day — June 27, 2007 — the mayor took out a second mortgage on his house, and, in early July 2007, paid Costa $20,000, two years after the work was done.
Santos told Dewey that although the mayor has explanations and context and reasons for his actions relating to Costa, he doesn't want to expose himself on the stand to questions about all of Giles' various business deals with city hall. The state says the mayor wanted to take care of Giles in return for the 83-year-old ward heeler's support in the North End during the 2007 election.
Santos asked that the Costa and Giles sections of the trial be separated into two cases; the judge said no.
So for the time being, there's only the 90-minute tape-recording of the mayor's voice, which starts out jaunty but gets quieter as the questions get tougher.
On the tape, Perez denies ever seeing a March 5, 2007, e-mail from Citino in which the developer wrote that Giles' demand for $100,000 is one of the burdens jeopardizing his proposed condo and shopping complex at 1143 and 1161 Main St.
The problem with the mayor's denial is that phone records show a flurry of phone calls from the mayor to Citino on March 5, 2007, and Citino testified that on March 16, 2007, the mayor told him in a phone conversation that he should not have put the Giles reference in writing because it would look bad if the e-mail got into the wrong hands.
Citino said the first thing that the mayor told him after viewing plans for the complex was that Citino would have to satisfy Giles, to "take care'' of him, or there would be no deal. The mayor says on the recording that he never meant for Giles to be paid off and only meant for Citino to consider allowing Giles to continue parking cars at 1143 Main St. while the project progressed.
But Citino testified that city hall was well aware of the negotiations between him and Giles, which began with Giles demanding $250,000 to leave the lot and Citino offering $25,000. They settled on $100,000, but the deal collapsed after a series of Hartford Courant articles, and the payment was never made.
The mayor also says on the tape that he assumed Giles had a lease or a license to operate the parking lot, which Giles was subleasing for four times the amount he was paying the city. Sullivan and others have testified that they looked for evidence of a lease but could find nothing. Santos and Seeley found a 1991 licensing agreement between Giles and the Hartford Redevelopment Agency, but the prosecution contends that it expired after one year.
Prosecutor Michael Gailor tried to drive home the point that access to the mayor was a commodity that could be bought. He asked Costa during testimony on May 14 about the work at the mayor's house.
"Did you ever prepare a price quote?" Gailor asked.
"No," said Costa, a bull of a man with a shaved head and black-framed glasses.
"Did you expect to get paid?" asked Gailor.
Costa paused for 40 seconds. "I took it as the cost of doing business with the city," he said.
"Was the mayor in a position to help you with the problems on Park Street?" Gailor asked.
"Was it your expectation he would help?"
"Did the mayor ever ask how much the granite countertop was going to cost?" Gailor asked.
"We just never got into those details," Costa replied.