Rumors began swirling in the fall of 2006 that city contractor Carlos Costa had done a significant amount of free remodeling work on Mayor Eddie A. Perez's house.

The prosecution in Perez's corruption trial has identified a Hartford man — Jack Santos — as a main source of that information.

Santos is expected to testify this morning that he had an occasion in Portugal to speak to a Costa employee who had done work on the mayor's house. Santos — who is not related to Perez defense lawyer Hubert Santos — is expected to say the worker told him that the Costa crew had done extensive free work and that there were efforts to conceal the project by doing the work during the evenings and weekends.

The state contends that those rumors prompted Perez to ask Costa to provide a bill for the estimated $40,000 worth of work. Costa, who testified that he never expected to be paid, said he prepared an invoice for about $28,000. He said when the mayor expressed "shock" at the price, he reduced the amount and gave Perez a bill for $20,000 on Feb. 28, 2007 — nearly two years after the work was done.

Inspector Michael Sullivan, the lead investigator in the case against Perez, also is expected to testify today. Arrest records assert that the mayor told Sullivan and his partner in their initial interview with Perez in 2007 that he had paid Costa. Court records indicate that one day after that interview, Perez took out a second mortgage and paid Costa's bill.

Under questioning from Hubert Santos, Costa maintained that the work was performed on weekdays, and that a number of the vehicles parked at the Perez house on Bloomfield Avenue were trucks that bore his "USA Contractors" logo. Costa said that he wasn't trying to hide the work and that the mayor never told him to keep it secret.

Costa testified that he did the work to gain additional access to the mayor and get his help to resolve problems with Costa's $5.3 million contract to reconstruct Park Street, a job bogged down by delays and disputes. He also acknowledged that as a major fundraiser for Perez, he already had access to the mayor.

Barbara Crockett, the mayor's executive assistant, testified Wednesday that Costa called and e-mailed frequently, seeking meetings with Perez. The mayor's calendar indicated a total of seven meetings involving the mayor and Costa were held in the mayor's office in 2005, 2006 and 2007.

"Would it be fair to say that when Carlos Costa called, the mayor would jump to see him?" Santos asked.

"No," said Crockett.

City Treasurer Kathleen Palm Devine testified Wednesday that she was asked to approve and release three expedited checks to Costa's USA Contractors Inc. in 2006 and 2007. The prosecution produced copies of e-mails indicating the requests came from the mayor's office.

The checks totaled more than $1 million and included one for $671,000 for the Park Street project. The state contends that there was no justification for these so-called emergency checks.

Perez's defense showed that Costa sometimes had problems getting paid on time and that, in fact, the city had been late in paying Costa the money covered by the expedited checks.

Under questioning from defense lawyer Hope Seeley, Devine said she would not have issued the expedited checks unless the requests were valid.

"I'm not afraid to say no," Devine said.

During other testimony Wednesday, a representative from Home Depot said Eddie and Maria Perez placed an order for a kitchen counter top and sinks, but later canceled the order.

The cancellation occurred shortly before Costa's crew began the work at the mayor's house.

Notes on the Home Depot documents indicated that Maria Perez had said she was canceling because she had gotten a better price.

Juror Dismissed

In a surprise development Wednesday, the Cuban American woman at the center of a Perez jury selection controversy was dismissed from the panel.

The woman, a former chaplain's assistant in the army, sent a note to Judge Julia Dewey and then took the witness stand with the rest of the jury absent from the courtroom. She told the judge that despite her efforts to focus on the evidence, she couldn't stay awake.

Dewey asked the woman if the problem was related to a certified disability that kept her from working, and the woman said it was.

An alternate juror was sworn in.

The controversy over the juror began when it was disclosed that she was a victim of a rape, and the prosecution questioned whether her actions in that case would affect her ability to be impartial. At an April hearing to discuss the issue, the prosecutor who put the woman's attacker in jail admitted she thought the woman was "crazy" because she didn't believe the state had the right man even though DNA evidence linked him to the crime. Santos and Seeley strongly objected to the hearing in the first place, saying there was no good reason to remove the juror. The judge retained her on the panel.

No Mistrial

Also on Wednesday, Hubert Santos said he is no longer considering withdrawing from the case or seeking a mistrial.

Santos said his concerns over a statement he made to Sullivan, the inspector, have been resolved.

Santos said the testimony on his statement "will be very narrow and specific."

Visit courant.com/perezcharges for more coverage of the case, including photos, video and legal documents.