HARTFORD — A picture of city contractor Carlos Costa emerged on day three of the state’s case against Mayor Eddie Perez for bribery and larceny.
Costa, a soft-spoken man of Portuguese and Brazilian descent, is the owner of USA Contractors Inc and the state’s star witness. He testified all day as Prosecutor Michael Gailor hammered home the point that Costa did extensive kitchen and bathroom work in Perez’s modest house on Bloomfield Avenue.
It all began when Perez and his wife showed up at Costa’s showroom on Airport Road and said they were interested in a kitchen countertop. Costa said he felt he should handle the work himself. But he never requested a deposit or offered an invoice to Perez and his wife, Maria.
Costa said that chit chat conversations with Maria led to him adding a steam shower, then tiling and then a Jacuzzi. The work meandered along and was then interrupted by Maria’s illness. She had a brain aneurysm and was admitted to St. Francis Hospital. At no time did Perez or Maria offer to pay for the work he was doing, Costa said. And he didn’t expect any payment from Perez because he figured “it was the cost of doing business with the city.”
Costa, who is facing bribery charges, said he hopes that by giving testimony the state will consider giving him leniency.When Costa stepped down from the stand for a lunch break, his eyes were peeled to the floor as Perez stood up and stared at him, as if waiting for eye contact. There was none.
Then at 3:35 p.m. it was the defense’s turn to question Costa. And the story expanded. Defense Attorney Hubert Santos revealed that Costa had developed a close relationship with Maria during the long renovation. In the summer of 2005 when Maria became ill and went to the hospital, Costa visited her and left a card with her son. The card read in part: Dear Maria…We missed you at the house…. The work is almost done.”
Santos said that when Costa went back over to Perez’s house he spoke to Perez who said he wanted to take care of the bill but it might take a while. According to defense attorney Hubert Santos, Costa said to Perez: “Don’t worry, take care of your wife.” Costa said he did not recall that conversation. But then Santos asked: did the mayor at any time offer to pay you? Cost said yes. When Costa gave Perez the bill, he said Perez was “shocked.”
Then Santos digged deeper and gave us the real powerful person buried inside the bear of a man that is Costa. Costa had called the mayor when he was in his tussle with the department of public works. He would usually get Perez’s aide, Charles Crocini, an attorney and an engineer who was at that time mediating the caustic relationship between Costa and the DPW, a relationship that was “at a point of no return.”
In addition, Costa up until 2007 had never done home improvement. His main business was commercial contracting and he has been working with the city since mid 1990s. His first big job was a garage on Church Street.
He has even worked on the Groton Substation, the largest demolition contract, ever, he said. And he had always put in competitive bids for contracts and never felt the need to bribe anyone, he said.Costa was also a big-time fundraiser for the mayor in his 2001, 2003 and 2007 election campaigns. His relationship with the mayor “had evolved” from just acquaintance in the 1990s to the status of “papi” in 2007. “Papi” is another word for friend or buddy. Perez would help Costa out if he thought Costa was right, Santos said. And if Perez didn’t thought Costa was right, he would not, Santos said.
Then Costa replied:”I was never wrong.”
Costa’s reply triggered laughter in the courtroom, but it was also tinged with arrogance. And his response made some observers realize that there was a giant behind the gentle voice.