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Perez Case To Continue

By Jeffrey B. Cohen

June 09, 2009

A state judge denied Mayor Eddie A. Perez's motion to dismiss the charges against him this morning, telling his attorney that he had not met his burden of proof.

Hubert J. Santos, Perez's attorney, argued in Hartford Superior Court that the state's arrest warrant for Perez on bribery and other charges made a "very close call in terms of probable cause." Santos also said that there was no "nexus" between the benefit Perez got at his home and the benefits received by the city contractor who worked on the mayor's home. Santos said there was no real claim "of a corrupt agreement."

But Judge Julia Dewey disagreed and said Santos had the law wrong. There need not be a defined corrupt agreement, Dewey said. She said such a deal "could be implied. It doesn't have to be explicit."

"I don't think you've met your burden of proof," Dewey said, before denying the motion. "It will go to trial based upon this affidavit." (STEPHEN DUNN/HARTFORD COURANT)

Perez was the subject of a rare, secret state investigatory grand jury for 18 months and state criminal investigators have for nearly two years been looking into allegations of corruption at city hall.

In January, they arrested Perez and city contractor Carlos Costa on bribery and other charges related to allegedly discounted work done on Perez's kitchen and bathroom. Prosecutors in January promised more arrests, but none have occurred. The grand juror in the case has until early July to complete his work.

Costa, who charged Perez roughly $20,000 for what Costa said was $40,000 worth of kitchen and bathroom work, said he never expected to get paid; Perez has said he always intended to pay, although he didn't do so until investigators began their work. At the time, Costa was working on a multi-million-dollar contract to remake Park Street -- and was seriously behind in his work.

Both men have pleaded not guilty.

Santos made his argument this morning as thunder clapped outside and Maria Perez, the mayor's wife, held her rosary beads. In the courtroom for part of the hearing were Perez ally William "Lew" Brown and city council Minority Leader Larry Deutsch.

In his argument, Santos told Dewey that the arrest warrant affidavit didn't stand up.

"This was not a clear case of probable cause," Santos said. "There was reason to pause." He also said that prosecutors left out crucial testimony which, if included, would have made a successful arrest warrant more difficult.

Santos then repeated arguments he has made before. Perez always intended to pay Costa, Santos said, and had asked for a bill. Santos also said that Perez did not act alone when it came to the city's effort to put Costa's professional insurer on notice -- a potentially disastrous move for a contractor that would seriously restrict his ability to do work.

"This has an element of prosecutorial misconduct," Santos said.

As he closed, Santos said that the state could not get Costa to say, under oath, that he had received a crime-worthy benefit. Instead, Santos said, when Costa testified before the grand jury and was asked why he did the work on the mayor's home, "He had a one word answer, and he said it about three times," Santos said. "Access."

"That's not a crime," Santos said.

In his argument, state prosecutor Christopher Alexy took exception to Santos' claim of prosecutorial misconduct. He also added a new twist: In addition to the widely-known kitchen and bathroom work at the Perez home, the state says Costa also did work for Perez "upstairs."

Asked about the "upstairs" comment, Santos later said he didn't what Alexy was talking about.

In response to Santos' argument that the arrest warrant did not meet the burden for probable cause, Alexy responded that it wasn't just prosecutors who thought it did. It was also the judge who signed the arrest warrant. And the grand juror who reviewed all of the evidence before the arrest warrant was even written.

And, now, Dewey.

Jury selection is now scheduled to begin the week after Labor Day; a trial is tentatively scheduled for mid-October.

"I don't anticipate this is going to be a long trial," Dewey said.

Perez declined to comment after the hearing. Santos told reporters that this was just an "opening salvo."

Reprinted with permission of the CityLine blog of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the CityLine at http://blogs.courant.com/cityline/ and the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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