By JEFFREY B. COHEN And DANIEL E. GOREN, Courant Staff Writers
February 27, 2008
State criminal investigators probing possible political corruption at Hartford city hall have asked for payment records related to the city's $1 billion school construction program — the first evidence of a connection between the investigation and the project.
The investigators have asked for and received payment records for Diggs Construction — the city's project manager on several school building projects — and for C&R Development, the construction manager for Noah Webster MicroSociety Magnet School, according to documents obtained by The Courant through a freedom of information request to the city treasurer's office.
The five pages of school payment documents, made available Tuesday by City Treasurer Kathleen Palm Devine, consist of computer-generated lists of payments. The payments to Diggs date from 2002 to 2004; the payments to C&R Development date from 2004 to 2007.
Palm Devine also released a few dozen pages of records of payments to USA Contractors — the company owned by city contractor Carlos Costa, whom Mayor Eddie A. Perez paid roughly $20,000 for bathroom and kitchen renovations on his home. The documents appear related to Costa's work on parking garages and Park Street streetscape improvements.
It is unclear why state investigators are interested in the various payments.
Perez, who is chairman of the city's board of education and head of its school building committee, declined to comment. His spokeswoman, Sarah Barr, referred questions to the office of the chief state's attorney, which is responsible for the investigation.
Joseph DeSanti, local operations manager for Kansas-based Diggs Construction, said he was unaware of the state's request and possible interest. Curtis Robinson, head of East Granby-based C&R Development, and his attorney also said they had not heard of the state's interest in their company's billings.
"If I had to come up with the 'Jeopardy!' question to fit the answer, I can't come up with one," said Gary Sheldon, Robinson's attorney.
State investigators have been interested in Perez since at least February 2007, when reports in The Courant indicated the mayor's office had instructed officials to give a lucrative, no-bid deal to Abraham L. Giles, a strong political supporter of Perez, to operate a city-owned parking lot downtown.
The investigation touched Perez directly during the summer when investigators searched his home and asked questions about the home improvement work Costa did for the mayor.
In December, a grand jury began hearing evidence concerning the Perez administration in New Britain Superior Court. City Corporation Counsel John Rose Jr. has said publicly that "dozens of people from the city have been called to testify."
The school building committee selected the minority-owned Diggs in December 2001 as its program manager. Since then, Diggs has overseen roughly $450 million of work at 11 schools.
One of the schools was Noah Webster. Work on the school is now complete, but during construction subcontractors had complained about late payments. Two lawsuits are pending in court from subcontractors, Sheldon said.
When asked about the documents related to the schools, Charles Crocini, the mayor's director of capital projects, said he, too, was in the dark.
"I know they've asked for documents, but they don't give any explanation when they do that," Crocini said of the state investigators. "They just say, 'We need the documents.'"
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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