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.