By DANIEL E. GOREN And JEFFREY B. COHEN, Courant Staff Writers
December 09, 2007
The state criminal grand jury investigating Mayor Eddie A. Perez and possible corruption at city hall will hear testimony this week in Superior Court in New Britain.
State investigators have distributed subpoenas during recent weeks to city employees in different departments, ordering them to testify.
While the number of potential witnesses is unknown, four people have confirmed to The Courant that they have received subpoenas.
It is unclear precisely what the grand jury will review, but state investigators have been looking into Perez's activities at least since February, when reports published in The Courant indicated that the mayor's office had instructed the city to give a lucrative, no-bid deal to a political supporter to operate a city-owned parking lot downtown. The investigation touched Perez directly over the summer, when he admitted in August that criminal investigators executed a search warrant on his home because he had hired a city contractor to do $20,000 worth of work to renovate Perez's bathroom and kitchen.
Investigators then searched the office of that same contractor, Carlos Costa of U.S.A. Contractors.
Those who follow Hartford politics say the investigation appears to be the first time, certainly in recent history, that a state grand jury has looked into allegations of corruption at the highest level of Hartford city government. A state grand jury in the early 1990s investigated police corruption in Hartford, which led to arrests, but none within memory has had the mayor at its center, political observers say.
Perez and Costa have denied any wrongdoing, although the mayor has said that using a city contractor was a "mistake." The mayor, through his attorney, has said he welcomed the grand jury and looked forward to "total vindication." Asked Wednesday if he would be appearing before the grand jury, Perez declined to comment.
With the investigation ongoing, Perez decisively won a re-election bid Nov. 6, capitalizing on a $600,000 war chest and a divided opposition.
A state investigatory grand jury is appointed by a panel of three judges and gives the state the power to compel testimony — a power state prosecutors in Connecticut have unsuccessfully sought for years. The panel typically appoints a single judge who serves as grand juror and hears from all witnesses presented by state prosecutors. After hearing all testimony, if the judge finds probable cause that crimes have been committed the judge can recommend the state make arrests.
State statute allows for an investigatory grand jury if investigators can show 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 last time a state grand jury probed systemic-style corruption in Hartford was in 1993, when Judge Arthur L. Spada, a criminal-trial judge at the time, was appointed to hear testimony about troubles in Hartford's police department.
Spada, who later served as state public safety commissioner, sat as the grand juror for nearly a year and recommended the state make arrests for what Spada then described as "a culture of indifference for the public welfare." Police were found to have shaken down drug dealers for money, were selling drugs, sabotaging police drug raids, gambling and drinking on the job and stealing drugs and cash.
The investigation into the Perez parking lot deal was touched off after the no-bid contract to run the downtown parking lot was given in February to political power broker Abraham L. Giles, whose support in the city's North End is considered important to electoral success in the city.
Giles also was 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 "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.
Costa, a family friend of Perez, has done millions of dollars worth of construction projects for the city, including its parking authority. One of the projects done by Costa's company was the Park Street streetscape improvement project, for which his company was the low bidder in 2003.
While Costa was working on the mayor's house, the contractor was so far behind on his streetscape work on Park Street that the city's public works staff determined that he was in default of his contract and tried to put his professional insurer on notice — a potentially disastrous move for a contractor. One of the mayor's aides had to intervene on Costa's behalf.
Because state grand juries are secret, and the state's criminal investigators will not discuss the focus of their work, it is unknown how far their inquiries may extend.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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