HARTFORD - After months of rumors, two years of investigation and near political paralysis in Connecticut's capital city, state prosecutors expanded their case against Mayor Eddie A. Perez Wednesday, arresting him for the second time this year on charges that he misused his office for his own gain.
Perez was the most notable person charged Wednesday, but he wasn't the only one. Others stung by the state's grand jury investigation of corruption at city hall were a city councilwoman, a former state representative and a city businessman. All say the charges won't stick. (Pictures: Perez, Others Surrender To Police)
Last time around, Perez was accused of trading his influence at city hall for discounted work on his Bloomfield Avenue home. This time, state prosecutors say Perez, in his 2007 race for mayor, attempted to extort money from a private developer for the benefit of political ally Abraham L. Giles allegations first made public in an April 2007 story in The Courant.
In return, Giles could have brought Perez votes, prosecutors alleged. (PDF: Arrest Warrant For Eddie Perez)
"Mayor Perez instilled in a developer a fear that if he did not take care of Giles ... the mayor would use his position to prevent the developer from developing two properties within the city of Hartford," the warrant alleges.
Wednesday was not unlike the day just over seven months ago when Perez was first arrested. As he did in January, Perez turned himself in for arrest. And, as he did in January, Perez made his way back to city hall, where he was surrounded by a crowd of friends and family who chanted his name and applauded his words. (Eddie Perez: Story Archive)
"The voters in Connecticut's capital city elected me to a third term as mayor of Hartford. The term is not over," Perez said, to applause. "The term is not over." (Helen Ubiñas Column: Eddie, Don't Leave Hartford In Limbo, Too)
A Trial Delayed
Perez has been under investigation since early 2007, after stories published in The Courant stirred interest. In October of that year, prosecutors working for Chief State's Attorney Kevin Kane got permission to impanel a secret grand jury one that would last 18 months and bring a steady parade of witnesses to a third-floor courtroom at Superior Court in New Britain.
In January, Perez, a Democrat, was arrested on bribery and other charges relating to discounted work done on his home by city contractor Carlos Costa. A third man, former city employee Edward Lazu, also was arrested on charges relating to work done by Costa on Lazu's driveway. Costa was charged in January, too. All three have pleaded not guilty; jury selection for Perez's trial was scheduled to begin Sept. 9.
But it seems likely that trial will be delayed. Perez will be back in court on Sept. 8 to be arraigned on Wednesday's charges. With him will be Republican Councilwoman Veronica Airey-Wilson, accused Wednesday of faking evidence to show that she had paid for work done on her home by a city contractor. Again, the contractor was Costa; again, as with the work he allegedly did on Perez's home, Costa said he didn't expect to get paid by Airey-Wilson.
"The claim against Mrs. Airey-Wilson is not sustainable and will not be proven by any standard of evidence, certainly not beyond a reasonable doubt," said Steven Seligman, her attorney. "It is unfortunate that after more than 18 months of investigation, requiring the expenditure of more than a million and a half dollars of taxpayers' money, that the mountain labored and brought forth only the molehill."
Also in court with Perez next week will be city businessman Carlos Lopez, who allegedly voted in Hartford three times while living in Farmington, according to a warrant for his arrest.
And then there will be Giles, 83.
"My client has taken the position he did nothing wrong, he committed no crimes," said John Kelly, Giles' attorney. "I find this affidavit very unusual. It relates a number of what appear to be legitimate business transactions. My client is a businessman. ... Is it surprising that among the people he does business with is the city of Hartford? No."
Giles And Perez
It's the relationship between Giles and Perez that drew the most interest from investigators.
The picture the warrants paint is one of a mayoral candidate in need of political support in a voting district where he thought he was weak. Giles, a powerful figure in that district, is described as Perez's possible vote-getter. Perez is pictured as a man trying to keep Giles happy.
Perez critic and Councilman Kenneth Kennedy told the grand jury that Perez could not win the 2007 mayoral election without Giles' support and the support of his 5th District town committee. Matt Hennessy, Perez's chief of staff, who recently announced his resignation, told the grand jury that Giles did not support Perez in the 2001 election, nor did he support Perez's council slate in 2003. But he did support Perez in 2007.
What changed between 2001 and 2007, the warrant suggests, is that Giles got special consideration from the city from early 2005 until the spring of 2007.
The warrant outlines several scenarios in which Giles allegedly benefited from the city a no-bid deal with the city to operate a parking lot, consideration to operate a second parking lot, an attempt by the city to lease a Giles-owned warehouse, an increase in a fee paid to Giles for evictions performed on behalf of the city, a city payment of nearly $10,000 to empty a dumpster Giles was using, and the awarding of a new moving-services contract to Giles.
In the end, though, the warrant charges Perez in just one scenario the failed real estate deal involving the so-called Butt Ugly Building in which Giles was to get a $100,000 fee from a private developer, Joseph Citino. For that, Perez and Giles were each charged with one count of attempted larceny by extortion and conspiracy to commit larceny by extortion.
Two years ago, Citino alleged in The Courant that he agreed to pay Giles $100,000 because the mayor told him he had to "satisfy" Giles.
But the warrant goes further, adding another voice to the argument that Perez was pushing for Giles to get taken care of.
Former Finance Director Thomas Morrison told the grand jury the "implication" was that Giles needed to be satisfied by Citino before the deal on the H.B. Davis Building on Main Street the Butt Ugly Building was to move forward.
"Mayor Perez made it 'clear that he didn't necessarily want Abe Giles unhappy coming out of this Butt-Ugly Building arrangement,'" the affidavit quotes Morrison as telling the grand jury.
The warrant goes on to quote Morrison as saying that "if Citino wanted the building and the city lot, he at least had to speak with Abe Giles and, in a sense, make peace or, you know, come to some arrangement."
In an interview, Kelly, Giles' attorney, pointed the finger at Citino who the warrant says was convicted in 1988, 1989 and 1991 for selling narcotics, selling a stolen firearm and transferring and delivering counterfeit money.
"I'm intrigued by the fact that apparently a three-time convicted felon is the state's main witness," Kelly said.
The warrant also appears to contradict some of Perez's public statements in 2007 to The Courant.
In a February 2007 story, Perez said he was unaware that the Hartford Parking Authority wanted to manage a parking lot he gave to Giles in a no-bid deal.
But the warrant disputes that. Both Deputy Corporation Counsel Carl Nasto and then-Chief Operating Officer Lee Erdmann told the grand jury that Perez told them he didn't want the parking authority to operate the lot at 1214 Main St. It also cites an e-mail from 2006 from Nasto to Erdmann in which Nasto wrote, "The mayor told me he does not want HPA [Hartford Parking Authority] to operate this lot."
When investigators spoke with Perez in June 2007, he denied that Erdmann or Nasto ever told him about the parking authority's interest in the lot. He also denied telling either of them that he didn't want the authority to operate the lot.
'I Believe He's Innocent'
An hour after Perez turned himself in at Troop H, dozens of his backers packed the function room at city hall. Many of them wore green ribbons of support as they had at the press conference following his first arrest. Phil Knecht wore his ribbon proudly.
"I know the good he's done for the city and I feel strongly that he should be given an opportunity to explain his side of the story," Knecht said.
Knecht acknowledged that he was called by Perez's family and asked to attend the event, but said, "I would have come anyway."
Perez eventually entered the crowded room to a standing ovation and roaring chants of "Eddie! Eddie! Eddie!" What came next were words of prayer and praise from city clergy, business owners and an area community activist.
Then came Perez, speaking of his family, his religion, his work for the city and his rights. "Truth is on my side," he said. "I committed no crime. I want my day in court."
He also said he was frustrated that a trial had yet to start, and that the scheduled trial on bribery charges scheduled for next week would likely be pushed back.
"This has been a one-sided process. It's been a secret process. It's been a trial in the media. It's been a trial of public opinion. All of the facts, all of the facts are not before the public and not before a court," Perez said. "Justice delayed is justice denied."
After Perez came his attorney, Hubert Santos, who said he would file a motion to dismiss the charges against his client and to hold the office of the chief state's attorney in contempt of an order of the state Supreme Court.
This would be Santos' second motion to dismiss. He lost the first in June.
"The state's attorney deliberately filed these charges intentionally to defeat our ability to have a jury trial and vindicate the mayor of the charges that are pending," Santos said.
Releasing the warrants while the grand juror's report was still under seal was equivalent to "thumbing its nose at the Connecticut Supreme Court. For that it should be held in contempt."
Kane's office declined comment.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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