In a secretly recorded conversation with an investigator, Mayor Eddie A. Perez denied he ever knew that political confidant Abraham Giles was demanding a $100,000 payoff to vacate a parking lot that a developer wanted to buy.
The mayor's tape-recorded statement to Inspector Michael Sullivan, played in court this afternoon, contradicts testimony from developer Joseph Citino that the first thing the mayor said to him after viewing the development plans was that Citino had to "take care" of Giles or there would be no deal.
Citino also testified that the mayor chastised him for a March 5, 2007, e-mail to the mayor in which Citino refers to the Giles demand, prompting the mayor to say the e-mail "wouldn't look good if it fell in to the wrong hands. "
On the tape, recorded by Sullivan in June 2007 and played for the jury in Perez's corruption trial, Perez denies seeing that particular e-mail from Citino.
Sullivan, at one point in the interview that lasted more than hour, mentions Hartford Courant articles on Giles' parking lot deals and asked the mayor if he ever "took care of Giles in exchange for votes."
"That's 100 percent wrong," Perez responds on the tape.
Sullivan then said that Citino was complaining that the mayor was demanding that the developer "had to satisfy Abe. "
"That's not the way I do business," the mayor replied. "I try to get people to work together. "
The mayor told Sullivan that all he asked Citino to do was to talk to Giles and see if there was a way that Giles could continue parking cars at 1143 Main St. while Citino worked to raze the vacant building next door.
But Citino testified last week that as early as the summer of 2006, a year before the Sullivan interview, the mayor was aware that Citino was negotiating a pay-off to Giles.
Earlier today James Kopencey, the former executive director of the Hartford Parking Authority, testified that he had uneasy relationship with Perez because the mayor had refused to turn over jurisdiction of surface parking to the parking authority. The lots had long been used as a form of political currency in the city, and Giles operated two parking lots at bargain-basement rates with no permits or contracts.
Kopencey said Sullivan asked him to wear a concealed recording device in a discussion with Assistant Corporation Counsel Carl Nasto in 2007.
Kopencey told defense lawyer Hubert Santos that he asked Nasto why the parking authority wasn't told that the city had bought the parking lot at 1214 Main St. and why Giles was installed as the operator.
"You felt cut off from the process because the mayor wasn't meeting with ... Is that why you you agreed to wear a wire and engage Mr. Nasto in a conversation about the mayor?" Santos asked.
Kopencey said he was trying to get at the truth as to why the surface lots hadn't been transferred.
Giles was paying the city $500 a month to run the parking lot at 1143 Main St. while subleasing it to another operator for four times that amount.
After the city bought the equally squalid parking area at 1214 Main St., officials installed Giles as the operator for $1,000 a month. Six months later, a national parking company agreed to pay more than $4,100 a month for the same lot when the Hartford Parking Authority finally took over management of the land and put it out to bid in the spring of 2007.
Surface parking lots have been a kind of political currency in Hartford for decades. Kopencey testified Friday that the agency was at odds with city hall over who should run those parking lots.
He said the mayor's office felt the city should retain them, and the parking authority believed that its jurisdiction over parking garages and on-street metered parking should extend to the surface lots.
The lots at 1143 and 1214 Main St., for example, occupy a no-man's land between the edge of downtown and the North End, and they surround one of the most enduring symbols of blight in Hartford, the long-vacant structure at 1161 Main St. known as the "Butt Ugly Building.''
The mayor faces, among other charges, a count of larceny by extortion that arises from Giles' alleged demand of a $100,000 payment from developer Joseph Citino, who wanted to buy 1143 Main St. Citino had proposed razing the decrepit "Butt Ugly" building and putting up a condo and shopping complex there. The prosecution said the mayor condoned the payment and backed Giles' attempt to collect it — an assertion the defense denies.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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