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Day 4: Mayor Perez On Trial

Costa Defends Work, Offers New Information

HARTFORD  — On day four in the state’s case against Mayor Eddie Perez, defense attorneys unveiled information—some that surprised prosecutors–to weaken claims that Perez knowingly received a bribe from a city contractor.

Perez is charged with bribe receiving from city contractor Carlos Costa of  USA Contractors. Prosecutors claimed that Perez received $40,000 worth of home renovations to his home on Bloomfield Avenue and intervened on Costa’s behalf in matters related to the Park Street development project.

After allowing Costa to tell his side of the story about his tenuous relationship with the city’s Department of Public Works,  Attorney Hubert Santos gave a clear sequence of possible events that led up to Costa’s work on the mayor’s house until its completion in December 2006.

 Santos told the story this way.

Costa had access to Perez since 2003.  Santos offered that a blown up colored photo of Costa, Perez and Julio Mendoza, former executive director of the Spanish American Merchant Association, were of buddies. The posed picture, Santos said, was at a fundraiser event organized by Costa at his nightclub. Costa agreed.

Costa met Perez and his wife Maria at Home Depot in West Hartford and during a conversation there, Costa learned that the mayor and his wife had ordered countertops from Home Depot. Costa then told Perez that he should cancel the order because he could do the work cheaper. Costa invited them to his showroom on Airport Road.

Costa said he didn’t remember that conversation. But he can always do a job cheaper.

Costa began renovations at the mayor’s house about April 2005.  It was his first home improvement job because he mostly did commercial properties. Initially, the job was only to be the kitchen countertop. Then Costa said he and Maria talked about the bathroom and Costa told Maria that the job “won’t be a big problem.” But then it turned into a big and drawn out problem. For days, Costa’s trucks emblazoned with his company name “USA Contractors” was parked in the mayor’s driveway and visible for all to see, Santos said, because the mayor wasn’t hiding anything.

Then Maria became ill. Costa’s job at the mayor’s house was interrupted. Then after the mayor’s wife was out of the hospital, the mayor asked for a bill “sometime in fall 2006.” After the job at the house was finished in December 2006, Costa started to gather information from memory for a bill because he wasn’t keeping a record of the job. But he was unaware of the investigation at that point.

Santos also asked Costa if he remembered that Julio Mendoza asked for a bill for Perez. Costa agreed with most of Santos’ story, including the fact that he failed to mention that to the grand jury.

The prosecutor revealed that Costa had the mayor’s cell phone and called him several times during 2005 and 2006. And that Costa did not expect the mayor to pay. Prosecutors claimed that it was only after Perez learned about an investigation he sought a bill and took out a mortgage to pay Costa.

During the time Costa’s company worked on Perez’s house, Costa was still trying to gain “more access” to Perez.  But he never received it, Santos said. So Costa had to use the mayor’s cell phone because he couldn’t reach Perez at city hall. Costa agreed.

Santos hammered out the point that Costa really didn’t get more access to the mayor. And the mayor refused to pay Costa the claim he put in to the Hartford’s Department of Public Works. That’s why Costa is now suing the city for about $2 million.

The suit claims that Costa did work above and beyond the contracted amount because of the city’s mismanagement and failure to manage unanticipated delays and demands of the project, such as removing materials from underground and delays caused by Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, the busiest period of the shopping season for merchants on Park Street. The claims totaled more than $900,000

“Did the mayor help you get paid for these claims?” Santos asked.

“No,” Costa replied.

Costa also sent several emails to get appointments with the mayor. One email was to invite the mayor to an event he was having for several Dominicans. But the mayor was busy, Santos said.

Then he sent an email to Perez’s executive assistant, Barbara Crockett, which Santos had Costa read to the court.

The email says: “Please don’t forget me.”

Costa is expected to take the stand again on Tuesday.

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