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Developer Citino Testifies In Perez Trial

Josh Kovner

May 27, 2010

The prosecution in Mayor Eddie A. Perez's corruption case says the mayor wanted North End politician Abraham Giles to be paid off to vacate a parking lot that was on a sliver of land crucial to a developer's plans for a condo and shopping center.

The developer,Joseph Citino, a 45-year-old reformed convict, testified Thursday that he had a meeting with Perez in May 2006, and that the mayor liked one of his conceptual plans.

But Perez also mentioned that Giles, who had helped galvanize support for the mayor's nomination in 2007, had operated a parking lot next to the vacant "Butt-Ugly Building" at 1161 Main St. for 20 years, Citino testified.

The developer, who wanted to demolish the decrepit structure, said, "I asked [the mayor] what the next step was, and he said, 'First we have to take care of Abe Giles, or there is no next step.' "

Giles would eventually demand $100,000, and the mayor went along with it, the prosecution asserts. Only when Courant reporters began asking about the Giles payment in March 2007 did the mayor tell Citino he could forget about paying Giles, the state contends.

The mayor would later deny that he knew anything about the Giles payoff, but prosecutor Michael Gailor produced an e-mail from Citino to Perez in March of 2007 in which Citino mentions the Giles payoff as one of the burdens threatening his project.

Citino testfied that the mayor told him in a subsequent phone call that he was concerned Citino had mentioned the Giles money in writing. Citino quoted the mayor as saying he was unhappy about the e-mail "because it could look bad if it fell into the wrong hands.''

Citino's project never went forward, but the defense asserts it had less to do with pressure from the mayor to take care of Giles than it did with pressure from the newspaper.

In April of 2007, The Courant wrote about the Citino project and the proposed Giles payoff.

Citino testified that former Courant reporter Jeffrey Cohen called Citino, told him the mayor had denied knowing anything about the Giles payoff, and wanted Citino to explain his position.

Defense lawyer Hubert Santos asked Citino if Cohen had threatened to include Citino's criminal history in the story if he didn't comment for the story.

Citino said he wouldn't exactly call it a threat. He said Cohen told him that the mayor had written to the chief state's attorney's office asking for a criminal investigation of Citino's deal and the proposed Giles payment. He said he was told that without his quotes, the article would not make him look good. Citino's criminal history was included in Courant stories

"I was very pissed off that the man that caused this action was making accusations to make me look bad,'' said Citino, referring to Perez.

Read the press release from the city announcing that Mayor Eddie A. Perez was seeking an investigation of the proposed $100,000 payment.

In earlier testimony Thursday, Citino said that when he met with Giles to discuss what it would take to get him off the land, Giles boasted that he was very close with the mayor and that Giles could "make or break'' Citino's planned $10 million to $15 million development. Giles said he wanted a partnership with Citino, the developer testified.

Citino said there was no way he'd agree to that.

"Essentially he'd have his hand in my pocket for years to come,'' Citino told Gailor. "So I said, 'Let's cut the [expletive.] What will It take for you to vacate?' ''

He said he offered Giles $25,000. Giles said that wasn't enough, Citino testified. He said negotiations took place over several weeks and that Giles first demanded $250,000. Citino said he ultimately agreed to pay Giles a "lease termination fee" of $100,000.

"Why?" asked Gailor.

"I had no choice. I had to take care of Abe Giles to make the deal go through,'' Citino said.

"And who said you had to take care of Mr. Giles?" Gailor asked.

"Mayor Perez,'' Citino replied.

Citino said he attended a meeting with Perez in July 2006 to report that conditions the mayor placed on the project a sale agreement, a demolition contract, and the accommodation of Giles had been met.

"The mayor said, 'Good,' simply, 'Good,' '' Citino said.

He said the mayor indicated the city council would approve the deal within two weeks, but in actuality, Citino was still going back and forth with city officials about the deal nearly a year later.

Citino said he soon found out that Giles, whom he called "a slimy individual,'' never had a signed contract and formal lease with the city for the parking lot. In fact, court records assert that Giles was paying $500 a month to the city and subleasing the lot to LAZ parking for $2,250 per month.

Santos suggested that the LAZ sublease provided a basis for the $100,000 fee to Giles. Gailor said that Giles had no valid lease with the city and had no right to enter into an agreement with LAZ.

The prosecution says the mayor's demand that Giles be accommodated and Giles' subsequent demand for a payoff constitute attempted larceny by extortion one of the felony corruption counts lodged against the mayor.

The prosecution attempted to keep the jury from hearing about Citino's criminal record.

Prosecutor Chris Alexy said a state conviction for drug sales and federal convictions involving counterfeiting and sale of stolen firearms occurred more than 20 years ago.

Santos countered that it would be important for the jurors to know about Citino's past so that they could assess his credibility, and determine whether Citino was the kind of person who could be extorted.

Judge Julia Dewey denied the prosecution's request and said Citino's record was admissible.

Citino testified that he has been granted immunity from any prosecution that might arise from the Perez case if he testifies truthfully.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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