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Day 9: Developer Testifies in Mayor Perez’s Larceny Case


Joseph Citino testifies in Mayor Eddie Perez's trial in Hartford Superior Court

HARTFORD — Hartford’s long-time politico Abraham Giles is a businessman.  

Giles runs parking lots throughout the city, one of which is at 1143 Main St., next to what’s known as the “Butt Ugly” building that sits on 1161 Main St. and is at the corner Trumbull Street. This eye sore also abuts the northern part of downtown Hartford and faces Interstate 84. 

So when 45-year old Joseph Citino, a Hartford native and three-time convicted felon turned developer, purchased that building, he had to call Giles. In that phone call with Citino, the octogenarian brought to bear his political and business acumen shaped by a lifetime of experiences in Hartford, according to Citino’s testimony on the ninth day of the state’s corruption case against Mayor Eddie Perez.

The state is accusing Perez of conspiracy to commit larceny by extortion. 

Citino testified that he wanted the property so he could develop the building into what he imagined should be at that corner: a six-story condo high rise with retail below. But he could not move forward until he took care of Giles, a known supporter of Perez, he said. 

As the co-owner of Providian Builders, Citino said taking care of Giles was one of the four criteria the city set out for his company before he could develop the building into what he imagined should be at that corner: a six-story condo high rise with retail below.   

Perez, he said, told him to “take care of Abe Giles, or there is no next step.”  The other criteria were for Citino to secure the property, to provide a second rendering of his proposed development and to add an awning to the proposed structure. He also had to buy the city-owned land that houses Giles’s parking lot. 

When Citino called Giles, the North End powerbroker began with prices and terms that perplexed Citino. The end result, Citino said, was that Giles would “have his hands in” his pocket for perpetuity–meaning forever.    Citino then told Giles to “cut the bull—-.” “What would it take to vacate the property?” he then asked Giles.

 Giles initially wanted $250,000 because he had children and had to think about their future, Citino said. He then offered $25,000 to Giles to terminate his lease. Giles countered with $100, 000 offer to vacate. Citino agreed to pay Giles $100, 000.

 Citino said he agreed because among other things, Giles said he could “make or break the deal” because he knows Perez. So he felt that he had to take care of Giles to move forward in the plans to develop the property.

Then Citino found out Giles didn’t have a lease on the property and that it was the city’s responsibility to get Giles off the property. The city wanted nothing to do with that mess, Citino said. And he was left with a contract that offered to pay off Giles $100,000. When Citino took into account that large sum, plus $1.1 million he paid for the building and the cost to get rid of the asbestos and demolished the building, he balked. 

In addition, he believed the plan had the green light until he received a phone call from Jeff Cohen, a Hartford Courant reporter who called to tell Citino that he no longer had an agreement with the city to develop the area.

Citino said Cohen called about 100 times looking for a comment, to which he replied no comment. Cohen also told Citino that he should make a comment because the mayor and his former chief of staff Matt Hennessy denied knowledge of the agreement he made with Giles.

 The defense attorney Hubert Santos objected to Citino’s hearsay statements about what Giles and others said, saying the state has failed to provide sufficient evidence that constitutes conspiracy to commit theft of property and that most of the state’s case is based on hearsay testimony, which they can’t cross examine because Giles is not being called as a witness in this case. 

The state disagreed with Santos’ theory, and the Court allowed the state to continue its questioning. Citino also testified that after his experience with Giles and the city, he learned Perez had sent a letter to  Kevin Kane, the chief state attorney to ask that Citino be investigated for possible wrongdoing, he said. Perez claimed Citino tried to defraud taxpayers.

Citino  also received a letter from the state’s attorney’s office saying he would not be prosecuted during the current investigation as long as he “tells the truth.” About 20 years ago, Citino was convicted of distribution of drugs, counterfeiting and sales of fire arms.  He owns dozens of buildings across the city and at least one restaurant. His attorney was William Gerace, the same attorney hired by Carlos Costa of USA Contractors Inc. Costa said he worked on the mayor’s kitchen and bathroom to get more access.

With his conditional immunity spelled out by Prosecutor Michael Gailor, Citino turned to Perez and said Perez made “false allegations” against him, which was a mistake because in the end, Perez now faces charges of corruption.

“I wasn’t charged in this crime, he was,” Citino said.  

He is expected to continue is testimony on Wednesday. 

 

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Day 8: Perez Trial Shifts To Phase Two, Kennedy Testifies


HARTFORD — City Councilman Kenneth Kennedy was the first witness to testify in phase two of the Chief State Attorney’s Office’s case against Mayor Eddie Perez for alleged bribery and larceny.

Sitting as the prosecutors’ expert witness on North End political dealings, Kennedy said Perez needed a “magic number” to garner the Democratic Town Committee’s endorsement for mayor in the 2007 election, and the only district that was large and malleable enough to give him that number was the 5th Assembly District, which was under the control of Abe Giles. The crucial number was 50 percent plus one of about 70 committee members. Giles, who has been in Hartford politics since the 1940s, was a known political opponent of Perez since 2001. But sometime in 2006, the octogenarian went on a radio show and backed Perez, said Kennedy who has plans to run for mayor. According to prosecutors, Perez rewarded Giles with lucrative city contracts in exchange for his support in the fifth district.

That’s the essence of the state’s larceny case that began on day eight of the state’s corruption case against Perez.

But before prosecutors delved into the second phase of their case, they wrapped up the first phase on bribe receiving and fabricating evidence with testimony from a Hartford Federal Credit Union employee who said Perez applied for a $25,000 home equity loan for home repairs and debt consolidation on June 27, 2007, which prosecutors said Perez borrowed to pay a city after he learned about the state’s investigation.

Also in the bribery portion of the case last week, Inspector Michael Sullivan testified Perez was visibly nervous when questioned about work done at his house by a city contractor. Prosecutors also claimed that Perez had work on his house done by Carlos Costa of USA Contractors Inc. and in return gave Costa more access to his office and helped Costa stay on the job  despite complaints about shoddy work.

But testimony from various city workers revealed it would have “cost the city a fortune” if Perez and his aide had not step in to mediate the contentious relationship with Costa and the city department of public works.  In addition, Perez’s administrative assistant   Barbara Crockett revealed Costa emailed and called incessantly but failed to gain extra access to the mayor.

Also on the stand last week was City Treasurer Kathleen Palm Devine. Devine  said she received an email from the mayor’s office about expedited checks for Costa. Prosecutors contend that Costa’s checks were a pay off by Perez for work done to his kitchen and bathroom on Bloomfield Avenue by Costa. But after Perez’s attorneys questioned Devine, she said every disbursed check is thoroughly vetted by her office.  She then acknowledged that the checks Costa received were valid checks and were expedited because of the city’s delay in paying Costa for work done during the previous year.

Perez’s corruption case continues on Thursday at 10 a.m.

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Day 1: Mayor Eddie Perez On Trial


HARTFORD — On Wednesday, the state’s case against Hartford Mayor Eddie Perez began with its first witness, the city’s assistant director of public works.

John McGrane took the stand shortly before noon and testified that he sent a May 8, 2006 letter to Carlos Costa’s insurance bond company to alert them that the project was exceedingly behind schedule and was incurring “voluminous” claims for other expenses totaling about $1.3 million. Costa, a principal at USA Construction, had garnered the contract for Park Street restoration project because his bid was about $1.5 million less than the two other bids.

Under questioning from state prosecutor Michael Gailor,  McGrane also testified that there was a consensus to remove Costa from the job, and that’s why he sent the letter. But he was surprised to learn Charles Crocini, a lawyer and an engineer who was one of Mayor Eddie Perez’s aides, sent another letter eight days later to neutralize McGrane’s letter.

But Perez’s attorney Hubert Santos fired back and said McGrane reported to his boss, Bhupen Patel. Patel was the director of public works and he made the final decisions on all city projects, not McGrane. Santos also intimated that Patel had no problem with a second letter sent by Crocini because it was less costly to keep Costa on the Park Street job rather than fire him, only to then incur a lawsuit for “millions of dollars.”

Santos also punched a hole in McGrane’s testimony, adding that McGrane himself had outlined three recommendations on how best to address the “increasing embarrassment” to the city and Crocini used his suggestions in his letter to the bond company.  At another attempt to injure the credibility of the state’s first witness’s, the defense claimed that McGrane had a “contentious relationship” with Costa and “call the bond” to jeopardize Costa’s reputation as a contractor. Defense also claimed that delays were caused by the city itself.

Testimony from McGrane also revealed that his office delayed Costa’s payment for about two months, which among other complaints, prompted Costas’ onslaught of letters to the department, including a letter of intent to sue.

Santos  claimed that’s it was at that  crucial moment the mayor’s aide stepped in to “mediate” the caustic relationship that had developed with Costa and McGrane, who at some point was acting director before a new director was hired. Santos argued that Crocini’s role was to prevent the city from incurring “millions” of dollars in a lawsuit.

At issue on day one was whether Perez’s relationship with Costa resulted in a contract for the Park Street job and whether the mayor stepped in to keep Costa as the contractor, which led to work done in on Perez’s house in 2005. State prosecutors alleged that Costa did a $40,000 home improvement work on the house to remain on the Park Street job.  

Perez is on trial for corruption that also includes allegedly coercing and bribing Abe Giles, a political boss in the North End.

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Eddie Perez Trial Tied to Hartford’s North End?


By Ann-Marie Adams, Staff Writer

HARTFORD — This Wednesday in Hartford Superior Court Mayor Eddie Perez will begin a legal battle rife with politics, but he has reasons to smile. Seemingly relax in his sunlit office tucked in the west wing of city hall, Hartford’s first Latino mayor brims with optimism.

“I feel the love,” Perez says in the last of a two-part interview with The Hartford Guardian.

That’s because he goes where he is loved.  Perez, 53, bounces from one neighborhood to the next to partake in community clean-up campaigns, to anniversary galas and to church gatherings. In addition, he can list several accomplishments since taking the helm in 2001. In 2007, Perez announced that the crime rate was reduced to the lowest level in 30 years. Last year, the city became home to a nationally recognized school, Capital Preparatory School. And overall, school district test scores have increased. Moreover, the city has a solid bond rating—all good news.

But that doesn’t put a dent in the hardened hearts of one political faction, some of whom outwardly relish the possibility that the mayor might be convicted of one or all six federal charges against him: conspiracy to commit larceny, attempt to commit larceny, bribe receiving, tampering physical evidence, accessory to tampering physical evidence and conspiracy. In this particular political pen, the mayor “is not welcome.”

 “There’s no love for the mayor in this part of town,” said Thomas Armstrong, a Windsor resident and a businessman in Hartford.  “Look around you; do you see anything happening up here? He doesn’t care about people up here.”

Up here, as Armstrong calls it, is the Northeast section of Hartford, which is bounded at the south by Spring Grove Cemetery at Capen and Main streets and stretches up to Keeney Park at the Windsor town line. It constitutes voting district 22, which is the poorest section of the neighborhood. Except for the bright spots of new housing on Ridgefield,  Capen and Barbour streets, the area is filled with blighted buildings and many people with bleak dispositions. Only about 5 percent of residents have a college education. The poverty rate is close to 40 percent. The area has the highest unemployment rate in the city and the highest crime rate.

The palpable frustration evident in Armstrong’s voice is a part of the larger issue associated with poor sections of urban areas, an incubator for discontent. In Hartford, this discontent has been spurred by years of neglect stretching back to the 1960s, observers say.

“Anyone who walks into that meeting at Rajun Cajun can hear the frustration,” said I. Charles Matthews, chair of the Neighborhood Revitalization Zone program in the Northeast. He is  talking about the African Alliance meetings. Matthews was the mayor’s political opponent in 2007.

Five Corner Store at Westland Street and Love Lane

Vanessa Williams, a small business specialist with the city’s economic development department says she hears the frustration, too.

“But I also hear it in the South End and downtown,” she says. “But they don’t have the blight that’s in the North End….You can clean up one building but that’s not going to be a benefit because of the overall development that needs to take place. The plan should be to change the overall landscape. It has to do with the bigger issue of blight.”

That blight affects businesses  in the North End is evident.

What was also evident in 2007  to any reporter who would listen was the smoldering discontent. And some reporters did listen, including Jeff Cohen who broke the story of the state’s  investigation of possible corruption in the mayor’s administration. Cohen  is now named as a witness.  Armstrong and others had vowed there would be arrests “coming soon.” Shortly afterward, state police made four arrests in 2009 for incidents that happened in 2007.

This story of discontent among a few people in the Northeast is important because at the heart of the trial is a bitter rivalry between two factions, which includes Abraham  Giles.  Giles is the mayor’s former rival until they paired up in the 2007 election. Giles function was to help the mayor cut into the political base in the North End. And he succeeded by cutting into a political strong hold. Perez garnered 195 votes,  not far from his opponent’s 243 votes. Even as news about the state investigation swirled around him, Perez was re-elected.

The rivalry went into another gear as grumblings about the mayor not sending money to the North End reached the halls of congress. Congressman John Larson (D) responded. On frigid January morning many small business owners voiced concerns about the lack of economic development in Hartford’s Northeast section –even as economic development plans were being implemented downtown as the country moved toward the worst recession since the 1930s.

“I’m on the board of  Metro Hartford Alliance board, and I see a lot of projects moving downtown, but there’s nothing moving up here,” said Yvon Alexander, owner of Uptown Vibz. Alexander was one of about 100 people who packed the backroom of Rajun Cajun for the listening session coordinated by Larson’s office.

“I’m here today because I’m hearing that there’s no money coming to the North End,” Larson says to The Hartford Guardian. He then declares:  “All politics is local.”

Councilwoman rJo Winch reiterates Larson’s sentiment:

 “I keep telling them they have to work with city hall. You can’t go around city hall. They need to work with the mayor,” she says.

But that’s the problem, some say. The mayor doesn’t want to work with them.

The mayor’s supporters say the problem with the Northeast is a lack of leadership. People are frustrated at so-called leaders in the community who have failed to deliver. Frustrations are also aimed at  Sen. Eric Coleman, Rep. Ken Green, Rep. Marie Kirkley-Bey, Rep. Doug McCrory, Councilman Kenneth Kennedy and others. But “the buck stops at the mayor.”

“These people can’t help them with jobs. They can’t help them stop their houses from going into foreclosure. They just can’t deliver the bacon. They’re not supposed to wait for people who are struggling to survive to take the reins, they are supposed to find creative ways to make sure the neediest areas get resources,” Matthews says. “When the city applys for funds, they cite statistics from the poor areas such as Northeast, Clay Arsenal and Frog Hollow. But when the money comes in, it goes to other parts of the city,” he says.

Perez says he recognizes he will be blame for the bad, so he figures he should be credited for the good:  his holistically approach to addressing the city issues with his One City, One Plan agenda. He also points to signs of development in Clay Arsenal, Upper Albany, Asylum Avenue and the $20 million being spend on the Parker Memorial Recreation Center in the Northeast. He said he has shown that he’s willing to work with anyone who has a solid plan.

“People have the right to ask for more,” he says. “[But…] politics is politics.”

James Wright had a plan and wanted more. He has been working with the mayor and has had success, he says as he stands  in the newly built building on Main and Westland streets  that houses the Philips Methodist Episcopal CME Church. Wright, who was honored for his 25th year as lead pastor last fall, invited the mayor, who is  “a longtime friend.”  Wright says he understands the frustration in the community, but if people have a  good plan, the mayor “will work with them.”

“We don’t have a problem with the mayor,” Wright says.”The mayor is working with us.”

When asked how much money has been funneled into the Northeast, the mayor directs The Guardian to his staff, which has yet to furnish that information because the budget is not parceled out to different sections, they say.

 Winch says  she has asked for money spent on the youth programs around the city and she has yet to receive that information.

“They sent me some vague response,” she says.

Anthony Rojas manages the Five Corner Store

Politics is who gets what, someone once said.  For those who are not politically connected, they realize they’re not getting much, especially from the Comunity Development Block Grants, a federal program aimed specifically at depressed communities.  Some have resigned themselves to that idea and have been fending for themselves.

Anthony Rojas, who runs the Five Corner Spanish American store at Westland and Love Lane, can be seen on certain days  sweeping the street corners and sidewalks  in front of his shop because “the city doesn’t send anyone to clean the streets,” he says.

“I notice that the only time they [politicians] come around is when they want something,” he says. “When we want something, they don’t come around.”

He interrupts his conversation with  a reporter and  serves several customers. He continues:

“Who’s going to help us? Not the mayor. He’s in court right now.”

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Jury Selection For Hartford Mayor’s Trial Underway


HARTFORD — Jury selection for the city’s mayor begins today.

Eddie Perez is charged with bribery and fraud. After months of motions and pleadings, the prosecution and defense are scheduled to start picking members of the six-person jury in Hartford Superior Court.
 
Perez was arrested in January 2009 and accused of receiving a bribe in the form of home improvements from a city contractor, Carlos Costa, who was also charged. 

The mayor was arrested again in September, when state authorities charged him and former Hartford state Rep. Abraham Giles with trying to extort $250,000 from a developer who wanted to buy city-owned property. 

Read more here:

 

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