HARTFORD — “What the f!@* is going on here?” Mayor Eddie Perez allegedly said back in 2006 as he waved a letter in the air.
Buphen Patel walked into the mayor’s office, puzzled. And then Perez handed him the letter.
That was just a snippet of Patel’s testimony on day two of the state corruption case against Perez, who is on trial for bribery and larceny.
Patel is the former director of the city’s public works department. On Thursday he said he only glanced at the letter and didn’t have time to read all the details. But he noticed it was apparently “a letter from Costa.”
The incident in the mayor’s office with Patel, Perez and his aide Charles Crocini occured shortly after Patel authorized his assistant John McGrane to write the May 8th 2006 letter to Costa’s bond company, which prompted a furious Costa to fire off a letter to the city, defense attorney Hubert Santos argued.
Santos on cross examination read key parts of Costa’s letter to Patel and highlighted the paragraphs in which Costa threatened a lawsuit against the city, claiming the city had defaulted on its contractual obligations.
Patel, who in Janauary 2006 agreed that Costa should be terminated from the job because of primarily severe delays, said his decision changed after that meeting with Perez and Crocini.
Patel had been working in the public works department since 1978. He was one of four who testified about the Park Street development project that was incurring additional costs because of delays and inflation, among other things.
The other prosecution witnesses were McGrane and two employees for city consulting firm Urban Engineers, Najib Habesch and John Bertoli — both of whom worked for the city of Hartford under the weak mayor form of government. The defense noted for the record the conflict of interest and said Costa objected when the city hired Urban Engineers.
Urban Engineer consultant Bertoli said several of Costa’s claims were approved, but many were denied because Costa’s claims were not submitted in the proper format, or were groundless.
In 2006, Patel said the mayor told him it was time for Patel to resign because he wanted to bring on new leadership. Santos, however, pointed out to Patel that he told the grand jury in 2008 that he retired. Santos also said that Patel failed to mention to the grand jury that Perez barked: “What the F*@! was going on here.”
Prosecutor Michael Gailor on redirect with Patel showed him two letters: 1) the letter from Carlos Costa threatening to sue and 2) the May 8, 2006 letter to the bond company alerting them of “unsatisfatory work” from Costa. Grailor then asked which one Patel saw in his meeting with Perez and Crocini.
Patel pointed to Costa’s letter, not the May 8 letter.
The letters are crucial because the state contends that Perez’s intervention constituted a bribe because he opted to keep Costa on the job in return for $40,000 worth or renovation on Perez’s house. The prosecutor claims that Perez paid only $20,000 for the job and only after he was being investigated.
But Patel later acknowledged that it would have cost the city “a fortune” to release Costa from his contract. So it “was a business decision” to keep him. Consequently, Costa stayed on the project and the workmanship improved afterward, Patel said.
Costa is expected to take the stand on Friday.