Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Hartford, Conn., mayor arrested on bribery charges

HARTFORD, Conn. – Eddie Perez, a one-time gang leader who turned his life around to become Hartford's most powerful mayor, surrendered to police Tuesday to face a bribery charge for having a city contractor renovate his home and not paying for it until after being confronted by investigators.

Perez, Hartford's first Hispanic mayor, pushed through changes to the city charter that gave him unprecedented control, which he used to consolidate power, appoint department heads and take control of the school board. But for two years he has operated under a cloud of suspicion, and the charges threaten to add his name to a steadily growing list of crooked politicians that has given this state the nickname "Corrupticut."

Surrounded at a City Hall news conference by family, city workers and allies Tuesday, the three-term Democrat admitted that he should never have used a city contractor, but said he did not commit a crime. He pledged to remain in the office he's held since 2001.

"It was inappropriate and inexcusable," Perez said. "I should never have allowed the perception of impropriety to color my administration."

The contractor, Carlos Costa, told investigators he believed he would be shut out of lucrative city contracts had he not done the work for free, prosecutors said Tuesday.

Costa's attorney, William Gerace, would not say if his client is cooperating with prosecutors.

"Mr. Costa was asked to do a job at the mayor's house and he did it," Gerace said. "He's not a crook. He's not dishonest. He's a hardworking contractor."

Costa, who was awarded a $5 million city streetscape contract in 2003, did $40,000 in kitchen and bathroom renovations at Perez's home in 2005. Perez paid $20,000 for the work, but only after being questioned in 2007 by a grand jury probing possible corruption in city government, prosecutors said. Neither Costa nor Perez obtained building permits for the work, prosecutors said.

According to warrants, Perez repeatedly intervened in matters to help Costa, such as by pressing city workers to pay Costa's bills faster than other municipal contractors.

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