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City Hall Probe Takes New Turn, Into Driveway

By JEFFREY B. COHEN And EDMUND H. MAHONY | Courant Staff Writers

August 31, 2008

The same contractor whose home-repair work caught the attention of state investigators looking into allegations of corruption at Hartford City Hall also started building a new driveway for a city official an official who managed the oversight of the contractor's minority-hiring practices on a city construction project.

Carlos Costa, whose renovations at the home of Mayor Eddie A. Perez and Councilwoman Veronica Airey-Wilson are being investigated, worked without proper permits on a driveway for city employee Edward Lazu in 2004, city documents show.

As a city contract compliance supervisor, Lazu was in charge of overseeing the employee who monitored Costa's work on a $5 million city job to remake Park Street.

State investigators have been asking questions about both the driveway work and Lazu's job, sources said. Once the investigators raised the issue last April, the city removed Lazu from any oversight of Costa's company, USA Contractors, a city official familiar with the situation said.

Lazu's lawyer, Richard Brown, said Lazu paid $1,100 for the work Costa did, even though the driveway project was never completed, and that Lazu did not, at least initially, see any problem with hiring Costa.

"At the time my client hired the contractor, he hadn't perceived that it would be a conflict of any sort," Brown said.

The city's code of ethics says employees shall not "engage in any financial dealings with any persons whose activities are regulated or supervised by the individual's department, board, commission or agency or accept a gift from such persons."

The revelations about Lazu and Costa mark another twist in the now 18-month-old investigation into allegations of possible corruption in the Perez administration. Last August, investigators served a search warrant on Perez's Bloomfield Avenue house, looking into roughly $20,000 in kitchen and bathroom work done by Costa in 2006. No permits were pulled for the job, and Perez didn't pay the bill until July 2007.

That work, along with work on the city's school reconstruction project and no-bid deals for at least one political ally of the mayor, have been the subject of an ongoing grand jury investigation.On Wednesday, the investigators served a search warrant on the home of Airey-Wilson, a city councilwoman running for state Senate who admitted that Costa installed granite counters in her home. She said she paid for the work that was done, has been cooperating with the state investigators and has "nothing to hide."

Costa has done substantial work for the city over the past decade, including the Park Street project and work on various city garages.

The Park Street project was marked by a number of problems. By the time Costa was working on Perez's house in 2006, he was already a year behind schedule on Park Street and officials in the city's department of public works had serious misgivings.

They believed Costa was in default of his contract and they tried to put his professional insurer on notice a potentially disastrous move for a contractor until a mayoral aide intervened.

On another front, it was Lazu's job in the city's office of human relations to supervise an employee who made sure that Costa complied with affirmative action and equal employment opportunity contractual requirements and goals. One of those requirements was the regular filing of certified payrolls, which a city official familiar with the work said Costa did not file in a timely fashion as required by contract.

Lazu was paid more than $60,000 at the time. He now makes at least $92,000.

At the same time Lazu was in charge of the oversight concerning Costa's Park Street contract in 2004, Costa was working on Lazu's Broadview Terrace driveway the second at the house. He did so without the proper permits until a neighbor complained and the city stopped the work by placing concrete blocks in the way.

According to records on file with the city's department of public works and an interview with John McGrane, a department manager, workers for Costa began cutting curbs and dumping yards of chipped stone on the property, and then a neighbor complained about the work.

That complaint prompted Lazu to respond in writing, saying the neighbor was "a disturbed man with nothing to do with his time other than continuously harass the residents in and out our street."

Nevertheless, the complaint prompted the city to act.

Following the complaints about the driveway, Bhupen Patel, the city's then-director of public works, said he approached Lazu because "it is illegal for anyone to have two driveways.

"I recall even discussing that with Mr. Lazu, that as a public official, it is not good for him to have this violation occur at his place," Patel said Thursday.

Lazu told him that he was simply relocating his driveway from one side of his house to the other. Patel said that was fine. But he'd need two permits one to close the old curb cut, and one to open the new one. When Lazu ignored Patel and continued to use the driveway by jumping the city curb, Patel ordered his staff to drop concrete blocks in front of the new driveway to block its use.

Eventually, Costa applied for sidewalk and curb cut permits with the city.

But as of this week four years later cars were parked in both driveways and the work on the new driveway remained incomplete.

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.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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