A developer paid tens of thousands of dollars in bribes to Shelton Mayor Mark Lauretti — including money for home repairs — to win approval for his plan to build two restaurants and bank, a federal prosecutor said Monday at the start of the developer's corruption trial.
James Botti paid about $20,000 for repairs to Lauretti's home and gave him cash from a safe where he kept hundreds of thousands of dollars, prosecutor Richard Schecter said during opening statements at the trial in New Haven. It was the first time authorities identified Lauretti as the official Botti allegedly bribed.
Lauretti, a mayor for 20 years who has expressed interest in running for governor, hasn't been charged with any crime and has repeatedly denied wrongdoing. A message was left for him Monday.
Botti, a car aficionado, wanted to be a big commercial developer but believed Shelton was corrupt and that he had to pay off the mayor to get projects approved, Schechter said. Botti said he could expose the corrupt activities of 17 other developers and many officials, the prosecutor said.
"James Botti bought public officials as often as he bought automobiles. Like a nice car, Mark Lauretti didn't come cheaply," Schechter said, adding that Botti complained that the mayor was greedy. "The evidence will show James Botti fed that greed."
When planning and zoning officials didn't want to approve the restaurant and bank project for Botti, Lauretti intervened to ensure he won approval, Schechter said. Botti also provided benefits to those officials, he said.
The home repairs came in 2002, but Lauretti didn't pay Botti until 2004 after news broke that then-Gov. John G. Rowland was under investigation for corruption, authorities said. Even after Lauretti paid the developer, Botti managed to funnel $9,000 back to the mayor through a Christmas party at a restaurant Lauretti owned, authorities said.
Botti's attorney, William Dow III, said in his opening statement the two men are childhood friends and there were no bribes. He said the developer did favors for the mayor as his friend and helped arrange work on the mayor's house.
Dow described Shelton as an insular community where residents often do favors for friends without expecting anything in return. He said Lauretti's job was to advocate projects he believed could economically benefit the city.
"It is expected mayors are going to get their hands dirty," Dow said. "There is no shame, there is no crime, there is nothing improper about a mayor opining or entering into whether a development should go forward or not."
Lauretti did nothing to help Botti on two earlier projects, but "went to bat" for Botti on the project cited by authorities "because he thought it was right for the community," Dow said. "In fact it was right for the community."