Defense In Perez Case Rests Without Mayor's Testimony
Jury To Get Case Wednesday Or Thursday
June 15, 2010
Mayor Eddie A. Perez walked with his wife, Maria, out of the courthouse Monday after four weeks of evidence in his bribery and larceny trial had ended, and was questioned by reporters about his decision not to take the stand and testify.
"Will it hurt you in the eyes of the voters, mayor?" a TV news reporter asked.
"My story has been told in court,'' the mayor said as the cameras pushed in close. "I've had my day in court.''
But was it enough?
With the jury set to begin deliberations late Wednesday afternoon or Thursday morning on four felony counts, the questions are whether Perez's decision not to take the witness stand will hurt him, and whether some of the images put forward by the defense — a mayor distracted by pressing problems in the city and his wife's illness, who also may have dyslexia and has great difficulty reading — serve to explain some of his conduct?
The jury heard Carlos Costa, a city contractor and former Perez fundraiser, say he did about $40,000 worth of work at the mayor's house with no expectation of being paid, and with the intent of increasing access to the mayor. Costa, mired in problems with his $5.3 million reconstruction of Park Street, said that he basically got what he expected. He testified that the mayor "gave me Crocini," a reference to director of capital projects Charles Crocini. According to prosecution testimony, Crocini, on the mayor's orders, stopped a process that other city officials had started to fire Costa from the project and re-bid the remainder of the work.
The jurors heard the mayor, charged with receiving bribes and fabricating evidence in the Costa matter, say in a tape-recorded interview with Inspector Michael Sullivan in June 2007 that he had paid Costa in full for the work more than a year earlier. But he had not. On the day of the June interview, he obtained a second mortgage on his home and paid Costa $20,000 in July 2007, two years after the work was done.
The mayor is also charged with attempted larceny by extortion and conspiracy in connection with a demand by Abraham Giles to be paid $100,000 by a developer to vacate a city-owned parking lot on land that the developer wanted to buy.
Developer Joseph Citino, a reformed ex-felon who owns Providian Builders, testified that the mayor told him after viewing his plans for a condominium and shopping complex at 1161 and 1143 Main St. that he would have to "take care" of Giles or there would be no deal.
Citino testified that Giles boasted that he had the mayor's support and could "make or break'' the project. The prosecution produced a March 5, 2007, e-mail that Citino sent to the mayor that said Giles' demand for a $100,000 payoff was one of the burdens jeopardizing the project. Citino testified that in a follow-up phone call, the mayor chastised him for putting the Giles reference in writing and said the e-mail would look bad if it got into the wrong hands.
The state says that Giles received favored treatment and no-bid parking deals in return for galvanizing support for Perez's nomination in 2007 in a divided North End political district. Giles had no formal lease for the parking lot in 2005 and 2006, yet he was subleasing the lot for four times what he was paying the city, the prosecution asserts.
The defense contends that Perez asked Citino only to consider letting Giles continue to park cars at 1143 Main St. while Citino's project proceeded, and that Perez never saw that March 5, 2007, e-mail from Citino. The mayor asked for a criminal probe of the payoff demand in April 2007, and he contends that he was unaware until that point that Giles had made a payoff demand, the defense says.
Defense lawyers Hubert Santos and Hope Seeley argued in pretrial motions and during the case that the Costa and Giles matters should be separated. They said that Perez wanted to testify about Costa and the bribery and fabrication charges, but not about Giles. Santos said that Giles' various business deals with city hall would be overly prejudicial to the mayor's case, if Perez was questioned about them.
Superior Court Judge Julia D. Dewey last week denied the defense requests for a mistrial, a separation of the case, and to allow Perez to testify in one matter and not be questioned about the other.
In making those requests, with the jury out of the courtroom, Santos spelled out what the mayor would have said in the Costa case, had he taken the stand:
The mayor lied to Sullivan because Corporation Counsel John Rose was present in the room and the mayor was embarrassed to admit to Rose that he hadn't yet paid for the home renovation work.
When he got the bill from Costa, he never read it, and assumed that it was accurate and complete.
He had intended to do the home remodeling work himself, before Costa essentially took over the project, and he viewed Costa as a friend doing a job at his house, not a contractor doing millions of dollars in city business.
His wife's illness, beginning in June 2005, and initial questions about whether medical insurance would cover her hospitalizations, drastically affected his concentration and his attention to written material but, nonetheless, he had asked Costa several times to give him a bill.
He had very little to do with the home renovation work, leaving the oversight to his wife, and was rarely home when the workers were there, but also made no attempt to hide the fact that Costa's company, USA Contractors, was doing the job.
He denies an episode, described in testimony by former Public Works Director Bhupen Patel, in which Perez allegedly angrily shook a letter from Costa that threatened a lawsuit and said to Patel, "What the (expletive) is going on here?''
He kept Costa on the Park Street job because he was devoted to helping minority contractors prosper, and also because firing Costa would have led to further delays and guaranteed a lawsuit from Costa. He never ordered Crocini to stop the process of firing Costa; that was Crocini's recommendation based on the potential cost of firing Costa.
He is a devoted public servant whose religious convictions would not allow him to take a bribe.
Santos also attacked Citino's credibility in the Giles matter, and said that Giles did have a right to operate the lot based on a 1991 agreement. Santos said that in any case, most top city hall officials and even other parking lot operators assumed that Giles had a right to be there.
The prosecution and the defense agreed not to call Giles to testify because it was clear that he would invoke his Fifth Amendent right against self-incrimination if he were to take the stand. Giles is charged with attempted larceny by extortion and Costa is charged with bribe-receiving.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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