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.