I'll be the first to admit that I am far from impartial on my thoughts regarding Mayor Eddie A. Perez. With that being said though, even if I were impartial, I would have to say it was a damaging opening for Perez's defense on corruption charges.
First up, Hartford Public Works Assistant Director John McGrane. A very believable and credible witness who testified about Carlos Costa's performance on the Park Street streetscape project. McGrane's most damaging testimony regarded the intervention by the Mayor and his staff on Costa's behalf.
McGrane outlined discussions and meetings where the determination was made that could result in "calling" Costa's bond for the project and his termination from the job. The meetings included numerous decision makers including DPW Director Bhupen Patel, Corporation Counsel John Rose, outside consultants from Urban Engineers, Inc, and eventually Charles Crocini from the Mayor's staff.
At one point a decision was made to call the bond and a letter was sent by McGrane to Costa's bonding company, USF&G putting them on notice of Costa's inferior performance. A week later that letter was rescinded by Crocini, clearing Costa from potential repercussions by the bonding company at that time.
McGrane had testified that there were problems with Costa right from the start of the project, and that the City was aware that he had drastically underbid the project and there were concerns if he could complete the job for the cost he had bid. The City had estimated the completion cost of the job at over $7 million dollars. Costa's bid was almost $2 million dollars under the estimated cost when he bid $5.3 million.
In spite of that and the City's concerns, Costa was still granted the contract.
After McGrane testified there were two consultants hired by the City from the firm of Urban Engineers and they essentially re-inforced McGrane's testimony of Costa's incompetence for the job and detailed numerous problems. They also testified to the actions of Crocini and the Mayor's Office to override their decision to terminate Costa from the job.
Then comes smoking gun number one, the first of many by the looks of the witness list. Former Public Works Director Bhupen Patel. Patel testified once again to pretty much the same testimony of the first three witnesses, detailing numerous ( the correct term is probably excessive) problems with Carlos Costa's performance on the job. Patel's most damaging testimony was probably about the meeting where he was summoned to the Mayor's Office and when he entered he was met by an angry Perez and Charles Crocini.
Patel testified that when he entered the office Perez was angry and waving a letter sent regarding calling Costa's bond and his termination from the Park Street project. Patel testified that Perez was waving the letter and yelled at him "What the "f" is going on?". The prosecutor asked him did Perez say what the"f" and Patel answered yes. I think the Judge understood what was going on and she intervened and asked Patel "did he say the letter "F" or use the word?".
Patel answered that he used the full "f" word and the Judge advised him that for the record he had to say what the Mayor said exactly. Patel seemed embarrassed and reluctant to use the word publicly, but eventually re-stated Perez's comments. Patel quoted Perez as saying "What the fuck is going on here" while waving the letter.
Then, under questioning by the Prosecution, Patel related that less than two weeks later Perez and COO Lee Erdmann summoned him to the Mayor's Office once again. In that meeting, Perez told Patel that he was going to "take DPW in a different direction" and demanded Patel's resignation.
Next up was Carlos Costa. If Patel was a smoking gun, Costa was a cannon attack. I arrived a few minutes late for the beginning of his testimony, but I was struck by the voice testifying. It kind of seemed like a mix of Marlon Brando's voice from the "Godfather" with an accent although much softer.
Costa was on the stand all day Friday and will be returning Monday morning. Keep in mind that Costa is also on the hook for his own felony charges in this whole deal. Both sides tried to make his testimony and his pending charges an issue. The prosecution soliciting testimony from Costa that no deals or promises had been made for his testimony, and Santos trying to paint the picture that Costa was testifying to "save his skin" as he repeatedly said during jury selection.
None the less, Costa, I think, came across as credible. Many of his damaging answers seemed to come after a prolonged delay, serious thought, and then a quiet response, sometimes animated with hand gestures and a shifting of his body in his seat.
Several of his answers had to be making Perez's head spin as to what damage was going to be done next. His initial response that he thought his relationship with Perez would be helpful as he encountered problems on Park Street and then his bombshell that he didn't expect to get paid for the renovations on Perez's home because"that was part of the cost of doing business in Hartford".
Then came probably the most damaging testimony of the day. Even though no prices were ever discussed, no quote was ever given, no deposit was ever paid, Costa one day got a phone call from Perez telling Costa that the needed to "make up an invoice". Costa did just that and virtually "made up" an invoice. No real numbers, no real dimensions, no real itemization of the mirrors, the lighting fixtures, the exact number of square feet of granite, nothing, pretty much all made up.
Oh, and what was the motivation for "making up" the invoice? Perez told Costa that "people" were starting to talk and questions were being asked about the "free" repairs on his home. Still a long ways to go, but that fabricating evidence charge seems to be getting clearer.
In watching this trial, one thing I am seeing is the reason that some lawyers have the reputation of "sleazy lawyer".
The first day I was struck by the number of questions Perez's attorney, Hubie Santos asked, only to quickly see the Prosecutor, Michael Gailor, jump up and object to. It seemed like 95% of the time the Judge sustained the Prosecutors objections. I asked another Attorney later why this guy, Santos, had the reputation he has and gets the fees he gets if he was that bad at questioning.
I figured even a lawyer fresh out of Law School would know what they could ask and how they can ask it. The attorney I spoke with said Santos knew exactly what he was doing. By asking the questions, however improper, the jury had heard the question. Even when Judge Dewey sustains the objection and instructs the jurors to disregard Santos, you can't pull it back from their minds. They heard what they heard already.
At one point late in the day yesterday, Santos said to Costa essentially "you were arrested and plead not guilty to bribery charges, right?". Costa replied yes, at which time Santos said then how can my client be guilty of bribery if you claim you never bribed him? Gailor quickly jumped up to object and Judge Dewey immediately chastised Santos that he knew that was improper and it was Costa's "Constitutional Right" to plead not guilty.
Hopefully some sanctions will start coming Santos's way if the Judge gets fed up enough. But then again, if you don't have a defense I guess you have to resort to the underhanded tactics. That's what the taxpayers of Hartford are paying Santos to do as a defense attorney.
And I didn't realize the toll this was taking on Perez until this morning. It's obvious he is nervous in Court, constantly shuffling in his seat, rubbing his cheek, rubbing his face, chewing on pens, chewing his lip. But this morning my mother called and said she felt bad for Perez. She had watched the Fox 61 coverage from Friday night and said his hands were shaking as he sat there in court. I watched Fox's coverage on Courant.com and sure enough, his hands were shaking.
I'm sure that as the trial progresses we will see that this trial has "taken a toll" on many more than just Eddie Perez. We've already heard from a couple of them, including Bhupen Patel who was forced out by Perez after 28 years of proud service to the people of Hartford.