Thursday, May 27, 2010
PEREZ TRIAL: BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU ASK FOR MAYOR
The Perez corruption trial finished off another week today. Tomorrow is a furlough day and the court is closed and Judge Dewey gave jurors Tuesday off so trial resumes on Wednesday at 9:30am.
Today's main witness was developer Joseph Citino who was stonewalled in his attempts to demolish and then develop the property that was part of the area surrounding the "Butt Ugly" building. Citino claims to have been in a meeting regarding his plans in which Mayor Perez was present.
I had anticipated a character out of the "Soprano's" to take the witness stand, but instead a professional gentleman was sworn in. Joseph Citino had to repeatedly be asked to speak up as the jury and the defense table could not hear his soft spoken voice.
It was during that meeting apparently when Perez insisted on a $100,000 "payment" to Abe Giles if Citino was going to be able to purchase of land abutting the "Butt Ugly" building, a property that Citino claims was key to the success of his plan.
Citino testified that during that meeting Perez told him if he wanted to move forward that he would have to "take care of Abe". When Citino asked Mayor Perez what the next step was Perez replied "First we have to take care of Abe Giles, or there is no next step".
It seemed that one of the main issues regarding Citino's testimony was his criminal past. With the jury out of the room both sides argued over how much of Citino's criminal history could be disclosed to the jurors. The whole issue seemed to become a minor issue when Prosecutor Gailor began his questioning and quickly went into Citino's past.
Citino seemed to be one of the better witnesses so far as to how he connected with the jury. Citino made it a point to speak directly to the jury making eye contact with them rather than the lawyers. He did have a tendency to answer more than the question that he was asked, but my impression is that the jurors were listening.
Citino's past arrests were from the late 80's and early 90's and involved drug, weapon and counterfeiting charges, for which he served prison time. He testified that he had made mistakes, but since then he told the jurors he had worked steadily to avoid ever going back to prison. Although in and of itself his past seemed damaging, Gailor did a masterful job of diverting attention away from the past and focusing the jurors attention on the hundreds of properties Citino claims to have developed since he started his company.
I think Hubie Santos realized that any hope he had of making Citino out to be a gun toting thug and drug dealer was lost when the jury heard about Citino's million dollar plus construction deals. He only touched briefly on Citino's past during his cross examination and moved past it quickly to focus on the Courant's treatment of Citino.
From day one of jury selection, the courtroom has buzzed over the constant mention of Courant reporter Jeff Cohen. Many people were wondering why Hubie Santos has insisted on mentioning Cohen and why would he be a potential witness?
Apparently, according to Santos, Citino had been called repeatedly by Cohen for a comment on a story regarding the alleged payoff to Giles. Citino remained steadfast and repeatedly told Cohen "no comment". Citino testified that Cohen had probably called him 100 times looking for a comment.
During the time Cohen was working on the story, Citino sent an e-mail to Perez outlining his understanding of where the deal stood. In that e-mail Citino referenced the "$100,000" payment to Giles. Citino testified that on the day the e-mail was sent at 10:54am, Perez began calling him almost immediately and he claimed (verified by phone records) that Perez called him 18 to 20 times trying to reach him.
They had a short conversation, most of which Citino "didn't recall". Several days later Perez called him upset because he had put the $100,000 payoff to Giles in writing. According to Citino, Perez was not happy because the e-mail and the payoff could be "trouble" if it got into the "wrong hands".
Then in the "be careful what you ask for" column, Perez reacted to a Courant story by Cohen. After the issue with "taking care of Abe" was published in the Courant, Perez turned around and sent a letter to States Attorney Kevin Kane requesting a full investigation into the payoff and any corrupt activity. Eddie must have thought that the attention would be focused on the convicted felon Citino and the spotlight would never be on him.
Well, as Inspector Sullivan testified, that plan didn't work for Perez and almost immediately after they first interviewed Eddie, he became a suspect.
One of the more peculiar pieces of information was brought out during Santos's cross examination when he tried to paint a picture of Cohen "threatening" Citino to get Citino to comment for his story. Citino seemed to not consider Cohen's actions a "threat", but Santos kept asking about Cohen "threatening" him. Apparently Cohen asked for comment and Citino kept saying "no comment" and Cohen related to him that he probably wouldn't be portrayed in a positive light if he chose not to comment. Cohen apparently advised Citino that his criminal past would be brought out in the article.
For some reason Santos also pressed Citino regarding a phone call from Cohen after the article was published. Santos claimed that Cohen called Citino from New Orleans where Cohen was visiting his parents after Hurricane Katrina. I wanted to stand up and object, "Relevance your honor?". But the Judge seemed upset enough already after spectator Jan Appelloff's cell phone went off followed by Hubie Santos's phone going off for the second time of the day. "Sorry your honor, its my son" was Hubie's response, Appelloff quickly exited the courtroom to silence hers.
A quick admonishment by Judge Dewey for everyone to turn their phones off. An early recess for the long weekend was called and testimony resumes next Wednesday.
And for those in attendance wondering about my being summoned to the "backroom" during the afternoon recess, I will remain silent on that one until the time is right.