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Hartford Contractor Worked For Two Other City Employees

By JEFFREY B. COHEN | Courant Staff Writer

September 22, 2008

As the grand jury investigating allegations of political corruption at city hall nears its one-year mark, the roster of city employees for whom city contractor Carlos Costa has worked continues to grow.

Last summer, the list began with Mayor Eddie A. Perez. Last month, it grew to include city Councilwoman Veronica Airey-Wilson and city contract compliance manager Edward Lazu.

Now add Frank Nicotera, the city's chief of inspection services, who, city records show, five years ago inspected electrical work at Costa's Carioca Club about the same time that Costa was installing kitchen countertops in Nicotera's Old Lyme beach house.

Also add Michael Fuschi, now the city's building official, for whom Costa installed countertops in 2003.

"Carlos was in the business of doing granite counters," said William Gerace, Costa's attorney. "A lot of people came to him. He always wanted to help cops, city people, politicians. He thought it was good for business, and good for him."

But the work that Costa and his company, USA Contractors, did for city officials continues to surface in an investigatory grand jury probe into Perez that began in October 2007. Costa has done millions of dollars of work in the city, remaking Park Street and working in city garages.

In interviews, Nicotera and Fuschi said they were cooperating with state investigators and that they had paid their bills from Costa in full.

Nicotera acknowledged that Costa worked on his Old Lyme home but declined to comment further. Costa also did some work at Nicotera's Wethersfield home nine years ago, sources at city hall said.

Fuschi, who was a heating inspector when the work was done and does not appear to have had oversight over any Costa projects, said he hired Costa at Nicotera's recommendation. Fuschi said he paid Costa $5,700 a discount off the big-box-store price, Fuschi said. He said Costa gave him a lower price in return for payment in cash.

Fuschi also said that Costa told him he could do better than the big-box-store price Fuschi had already been quoted because he was a granite wholesaler.

Costa told him that buying directly from his company cut out the middleman, Fuschi said.

Fuschi said he believes he paid a fair market price. He said it was hard to avoid people who do business in the city when building his home.

"The city is a major hub of every contractor, wholesaler and supply house for pretty much the state of Connecticut," he said. "I guess I really didn't give it much thought at the time."

Besides Costa's work, the city's massive school construction project and no-bid deals for at least one political ally of the mayor have been subjects of the investigators. Just last week, state investigators issued subpoenas for bank records to the city's West Indian Social Club and its charitable organization. The club has said it believes that people at city hall and not the club itself are at the core of the investigators' interest.

In August 2007, investigators searched Perez's home looking for information about roughly $20,000 in kitchen and bathroom work that Costa did there in 2006. No permits were pulled for the job, and Perez did not pay the bill until July 2007.

Investigators also have asked about work Costa did on a driveway for Lazu, who oversaw Costa's contract compliance with minority-hiring regulations on his Park Street work. Last month, those investigators searched Airey-Wilson's home, looking for information on countertops Costa did there, too.

Lazu's attorney has said his client did not see a conflict of interest at the time; Airey-Wilson, who was the West Indian Social Club's first female president, has said she has "nothing to hide."

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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