By DANIEL E. GOREN, DAVE ALTIMARI And JEFFREY B. COHEN, Courant Staff Writers
November 20, 2007
A state grand jury has been appointed as part of the ongoing criminal investigation into the administration of Hartford Mayor Eddie A. Perez, sources familiar with the probe said Monday.
The grand jury — which has the authority to compel testimony from witnesses — is expected to start its work next month in Waterbury, the sources said.
Subpoenas are expected to go out in the coming weeks.
Although it was not clear Monday precisely what the grand jury will investigate, state criminal investigators have been probing Perez at least since February, when revelations surfaced that the city — at the direction of the mayor's office — gave a lucrative, no-bid deal to a political supporter to operate a city-owned parking lot downtown.
The investigation touched the mayor more personally in August, when Perez admitted that criminal investigators executed a search warrant on his home because he had hired a city contractor to do $20,000 worth of work on his bathroom and kitchen.
The investigators also searched the office of the contractor, Carlos Costa, of USA Contractors Inc. Perez and Costa have denied any wrongdoing, although Perez has admitted that using a city contractor was a "mistake."
"Mayor Perez welcomes the investigation by the one-person grand jury," Perez's attorney, Hubert Santos, of the firm Santos & Seeley, said Monday. "He has committed no crimes and looks forward to total vindication. The chief state's attorney's office should be commended for its deliberate and measured approach in investigating these allegations."
Despite the investigation, Perez decisively won a re-election bid Nov. 6 with a hefty $600,000 war chest and a divided opposition. The investigation played a relatively minor role in the campaign, with few of Perez's challengers capitalizing on the mayor's troubles.
A state investigatory grand jury is appointed by a panel of three judges and gives the state the power to compel testimony — a power that state prosecutors in Connecticut have been unsuccessfully trying for years to obtain. The panel typically appoints a single judge to be the investigatory grand juror and hear all witnesses.
State statute allows the panel to approve an investigatory grand jury requested by the state if it finds, among other things, that "other normal investigative procedures with respect to the alleged crime have been tried and have failed or reasonably appear to be unlikely to succeed if tried."
The grand jury runs for a six-month period, but can be renewed.
The investigation into the parking lot deal was touched off after the no-bid contract was given in February to North End political power broker Abraham L. Giles, whose support in the city's North End is considered important to electoral success in the city.
Giles was also at the center of a collapsed private real estate deal to build condos on a downtown parcel and an adjacent city-owned parking lot that Giles has operated since 1993.
The deal, which would have included the demolition of Hartford's so-called "Butt Ugly" building, also included a $100,000 lease termination fee for Giles to vacate the city lot.
State investigators also want to know why the city paid close to $10,000 to clean out Giles' private warehouse in early 2007, only to be repaid after the deal made news months later.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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