By DANIEL E. GOREN, JEFFREY B. COHEN And DAVE ALTIMARI, Courant Staff Writers
December 11, 2007
Hartford city officials past and present were among the witnesses reporting Monday to Superior Court in New Britain, where a state criminal grand jury is looking into allegations of political corruption in the administration of Mayor Eddie A. Perez.
Among those who appeared: the city's former director of licenses and inspections, the Democratic registrar of voters, the city's chief operating officer, Perez's controversial chief of staff,and former Mayor Mike Peters.
Peters walked into the court building early Monday and was promptly escorted to the offices of the state's attorney, where a judge wassitting as the state's grand juror. As he arrived, Peters quipped he was there as a "character witness," adding "not that I have any character myself."
Reached later by phone, Peters said he was there to give "background on what it was like back when I was mayor."
"Beyond that I can't comment. The judge was clear that I can't comment further," Peters said. "And you know me, I'll comment on almost anything. But on this one I can't."
It is not clear what this grand jury will review; its work is done in secret, with only a judge, a prosecutor, a state investigator and a court reporter in the room.
But state criminal investigators have been probing Perez's activities since at least February, when reports published in The Courant indicated that the mayor's office had instructed city officials to give a lucrative, no-bid deal to a political supporter — Abraham L. Giles — to operate a city-owned parking lot downtown.
The investigation then touched Perez directly over the summer. The mayor 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 renovation work to his bathroom and kitchen. Investigators then searched the office of that same contractor, Carlos Costa of U.S.A. Contractors.
State investigators have also looked into other issues relating to Giles and Perez, including why the city paid $10,000 to haul away trash from a North End warehouse Giles owned. Also, investigators are interested in a failed private real estate deal that would have paid Giles $100,000 to walk away from a second city-owned parking lot he operates.
More than a half-dozen people were escorted into the state's attorney's office by the investigator handling the case Monday. Among those, in addition to Peters, were Dinesh Patel, who recently retired as the city's director of licenses and inspections; Shirley Surgeon, the Democratic registrar of voters; Lee Erdmann, the city's chief operating officer; Matt Hennessy, Perez's chief of staff; and two other men who could not be identified.
Patel, Erdmann and Surgeon confirmed they were at the courthouse to testify for the grand jury but declined to comment further. Hennessy did not return phone calls and an e-mail asking for comment.
The grand jury is expected to continue its work this week.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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