Mayor Eddie A. Perez lied to an investigator at a tape-recorded meeting in June 2007 about when he paid for remodeling work done by a city contractor because he didn't want the city's lawyer, who was also in the room, to know what had happened.
Defense attorney Hubert Santos gave that explanation to the judge Thursday in the mayor's bribery and evidence-fabrication case.
It was the first time that Corporation Counsel John Rose's presence has been publicly cited as a reason for why Perez falsely said that he had paid $20,000 to Carlos Costa 18 months earlier. The payment wasn't made until after the mayor was confronted in June 2007 about free or deeply discounted work done at his house in 2005.
The jury won't hear the explanation. The panel was excused so that Santos could argue that the prosecution knew this was the mayor's position yet left it out of the arrest warrant. Superior Court Judge Julia Dewey said there was no indication of bias and barred Santos from pursuing it.
The jury did get to hear the tape that Inspector Michael Sullivan made of that June 27, 2007, meeting in Perez's office, the tape that captures the mayor's jaunty voice at the beginning and his barely audible whisper after he was asked about the renovation work on his house.
"How did the mayor's demeanor change?'' prosecutor Michael Gailor asked Sullivan.
"He was noticeably nervous. He was shaking, sweating, fidgeting, he couldn't sit in his chair,'' Sullivan said.
The day before the meeting, Sullivan had received information that Costa, a man who needed the mayor's help on the troubled $5.3 million Park Street reconstruction job, had done renovation work on the mayor's house for free, and with none of the construction permits required by law.
Sullivan, a retired New Britain detective captain and now the supervisory inspector in the chief state's attorney's cold case unit, said the mayor was a suspect when he and Inspector Douglas Jowett went to Perez's office.
Rose was present, along with the mayor, and Sullivan testified that he didn't know specifically why Rose was there. Rose was not acting as Perez's personal lawyer.
The investigators and the mayor spoke about other investigative matters for the first hour and 20 minutes. The last 17 minutes dealt with the mayor's home renovations.
On the tape, captured by a digital recorder in Sullivan's shirt pocket and later converted to a compact disk with a transcript, Sullivan asks the mayor, "Did you ever have work done on your house by people who did work for the city?''
Perez said he did. He said Carlos Costa was the contractor and the cost was $20,000.
"Did you pay for it?''
The mayor said he did — a year and a half earlier.
The inspector asked if the mayor received a break on the cost of the job.
Perez said he had paid market price.
Sullivan asked if there was a contract and an invoice. The mayor said there was neither — that the work was done on the strength of a verbal agreement.
Sullivan asked if he could have a copy of the canceled check.
The mayor said he would provide it.
It was at that point, in late June 2007, that Perez went to Santos and law partner Hope Seeley for legal representation.
Santos said Thursday in court that at a meeting with Chief State's Attorney Kevin Kane a few days later, on July 6, 2007, Santos told Kane that the mayor had "misspoken'' and that he had not, in fact, paid the bill, but that an invoice did exist. The invoice and other documents were provided to the chief state's attorney and Santos said the bill would be paid "shortly.''
Santos said he also told Kane that the mayor "answered the way he did because John Rose was present and Rose didn't know about the home renovation work.''
The other documents provided to Kane included bank loan records that showed that on June 27, 2007, the day that Perez had met with Sullivan and Jowett from 11 a.m. to about 12:30 p.m., Perez applied for a $25,000 second mortgage from his credit union. He later paid Costa the $20,000.
Costa has testified that he did $40,000 worth of work on the mayor's kitchen and bathroom with no expectation of payment. He said that Perez asked him for a bill in the fall of 2006, and that he finally gave him one in February 2007.
In earlier testimony Thursday, Joaquim "Jack" Espirito-Santo said he had a story to tell about Perez when Espirito-Santo came back from a trip to his native Portugal in the spring of 2006.
And he told that story to dozens of people throughout 2006 and to state Rep. Minnie Gonzalez and other mayoral challengers in 2007.
The story was that he had met a longtime friend from Hartford, Antonio Mouta, in a coffee shop in Portugal, and Mouta told Santo that he was doing work inside the mayor's house.
Mouta said that Carlos Costa was in charge, and that Mouta was working on the weekends. Espirito-Santo said in court that Mouta told him that there were no construction permits taken out for the job, and that "the mayor wasn't going to pay."
Espirito-Santo told Gailor, the prosecutor, that within a couple of weeks of returning from Portugal, he began spreading the story — telling friends, police officers and customers at his furniture store. He said that in January 2007, he told Gonzalez, and later Frank Barrows and I. Charles Matthews, all of whom were political candidates trying to unseat Perez.
The state contends that it was those rumors about the work at the mayor's house that prompted Perez to ask Costa for a bill.
Costa has testified that he prepared an invoice for about $28,000. He said that when the mayor expressed "shock'' at the price, he reduced the amount and gave him a bill for $20,000 on Feb. 28, 2007 — nearly two years after the work was done.
There will be no trial testimony today or Monday because a juror had a death in the family.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun