Statements to investigators by a top aide to Hartford Mayor Eddie A. Perez have raised questions about the mayor's assertion that he was unaware of the parking authority's interest in a downtown lot turned over to a North End politician in 2006.
City Chief Operating Officer Lee Erdmann told state investigators that the mayor knew of the authority's interest in the lot, according to a search warrant affidavit for Perez's cellphone records that was released Tuesday. The release followed the mayor's first court hearing after his arrest last week on bribery charges.
When The Courant initially reported the potentially lucrative deal with Abraham Giles in February 2007, Perez critics said the deal smacked of political patronage and that Perez was catering to Giles — a former state representative and North End politician — to help his re-election bid.
Perez denied those accusations at the time and said he was unaware that the Hartford Parking Authority was interested in the parking lot.
But in the affidavit released Tuesday, Erdmann says he had a brief conversation with Perez to discuss the authority's desire to take over the Main Street parking lot after receiving an e-mail from parking authority director James Kopencey in the summer of 2006.
"Erdmann indicated he had a brief conversation with Mayor Perez, advised Perez of the e-mail, and asked Perez if he was interested in pursuing the Parking Authority to take over the parking lot," the search warrant affidavit says. According to the warrant, Perez told Erdmann, "No I'm not interested."
In an interview Tuesday, Erdmann confirmed that conversation happened "before Abe Giles was awarded the license agreement. Most definitely."
On Tuesday, Perez pleaded not guilty in Superior Court to charges of bribery and falsifying evidence in connection with allegedly discounted work done at his home by city contractor Carlos Costa. His attorney, Hubert Santos, asked for an immediate trial; state attorney Christopher Alexy told the court that Santos would want more time to review the roughly 12 boxes of information he was ready to share. Perez's case was continued to March 3.
The warrant released Tuesday also mentions city developer Joseph Citino's claim that, according to investigators, Perez wanted him to "erase" an e-mail he sent the mayor detailing a proposed $100,000 payment to Giles on a separate parking lot deal. Perez told Citino that he shouldn't have put the deal "in writing," the warrant says.
The parking lot controversies marked the beginning of a nearly two-year inquiry into allegations of political corruption at city hall that resulted in Perez's arrest last week. State investigators have not charged Perez in relation to the alleged parking lot deals, but said, according to the warrant, they became interested in the allegations after The Courant reported stories about Perez and Giles.
In June 2006, the city purchased the 3-acre parking lot at 1214-1218 Main St. for $2.2 million.
Besides the city's parking authority, Central Parking System — which had operated the lot for over 20 years — also was interested in continuing to operate it now that the city owned it. But, according to statements made by company representatives in the affidavit, the city did not respond when the company made its interest known. Giles took over the lot's operation in November 2006. Instead of locking the city into a long-term lease for the right to park cars on the parcel, Perez opted for a more flexible "license agreement" with Giles. The month-to-month agreement lasted until the end of June 2008. The $1,000 monthly rental fee was based on Giles' rates from another 14-year-old parking contract he had with the city.
Erdmann is apparently not the only high-ranking city official to know of the parking authority's interest in the lot. According to the affidavit, former Director of Development Services John Palmieri and former Director of Public Works Bhupen Patel got a copy of the e-mail from Kopencey, too.
Also, according to statements in the affidavit made by "an individual cooperating with the Office of the Chief State's Attorney," Deputy Corporation Counsel Carl Nasto communicated with both Perez and Erdmann about the parking lot and the parking authority.
"Nasto stated that Perez told him, 'Just give it [parking lot] to Giles, I don't want the Parking Authority to get it,'" the affidavit says. The affidavit then says Nasto sent an e-mail to Erdmann on Aug. 28, 2006, along the same lines.
"Lee, The Mayor told me that he does not want HPA [Hartford Parking Authority] to operate this lot," Nasto wrote, according to the warrant. "We need to circle the wagons with him before responding to Jim" — an apparent reference to Kopencey.
In the affidavit's "second incident," investigators spell out the circumstances behind a proposed $100,000 payment to be made to Giles as part of a deal involving the sale of city property. Citino previously alleged that Perez pressured him to deal with Giles. Perez has said that he knew nothing of the $100,000 deal — which never materialized — even though others at city hall did.
Citino — a successful city developer who was sentenced in the late 1980s and early 1990s to serve time in prison for offenses including counterfeiting, narcotics and weapons charges — has said that he mentioned the $100,000 deal to Perez in an e-mail on March 5, 2007. Perez's staff has said that the person who screens the mayor's e-mails didn't pass this one along.
But, in the affidavit, Citino says Perez called him five times on his cellphone in the 90 minutes after he sent the e-mail. Once they connected, according to the affidavit, "Perez advised Citino that he (Citino) should not have put the $100,000 deal in writing. Citino stated that Perez advised Citino to erase the e-mail. Citino stated he advised Perez that the e-mail was part of the hard drive and could not be erased."
After The Courant provided Perez's office a copy of the affidavit and asked for comment, the mayor's spokeswoman, Sarah Barr, said that the affidavit has "no connection to the charges brought against the mayor last week. There is also no indication that the snippets of statements attributed to individuals in the affidavit were given under oath."
Santos, Perez's attorney, did not return a call for comment.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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