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Perez's Bribery And Extortion Trial Expected To Begin This Week

Steven Goode

April 05, 2010

A three-year investigation into corruption at city hall moves to the courtroom this week as the bribery and extortion trial of Mayor Eddie A. Perez stays on a schedule outlined last November by Superior Court Judge Julia Dewey.

The last of the motions filed by the mayor's defense attorney, Hubert Santos, are scheduled to be heard in Superior Court in Hartford on Tuesday. Jury selection is scheduled to begin next Monday, with Perez expected to be in regular attendance just as the city council begins budget hearings aimed at closing an expected $25 million revenue shortfall.

Perez has maintained that he can participate fully in his defense and also govern effectively, and repeated that belief in a brief interview last week. He said that no mayor runs a city alone and that he'll count on staff and the city council to do their jobs and help him do his.

"I'm very confident everyone is on point and I'm going to continue to do the job to the best of my ability," he said. "There's a great team here and the team gets the work done."

City Councilman Kenneth Kennedy, a lawyer and critic of the mayor's administration, said the mayor should take a leave of absence to focus on his defense.

"It will be difficult, if not impossible, for the mayor to do everything he needs to do to defend himself and still be mayor," Kennedy said. "He will be distracted, which is understandable."

Council President Pedro Segarra, also a lawyer, said he doesn't see how Perez can do both, but said he is willing to give him the benefit of the doubt for now.

"My position is we'll have to wait and see how this thing goes," Segarra said. "He says he can do it. I don't think we're a position to remove him."

Perez declined to comment on any aspects of his trial and referred questions to Santos.

Prosecutor Christopher Alexy also declined to discuss any specifics of the case, including whether there has been discussion of a plea deal. He said his office is ready to prosecute and expecting to do so.

Perez was arrested in January 2009 and charged with bribery, tampering with evidence and conspiracy to tamper with evidence in connection with work done at his home by a city contractor, Carlos Costa.

Costa was also arrested and told authorities that he never expected to get paid for the renovation work he did in Perez's kitchen and bathroom.

But Perez said at the time that he always intended to pay for the work, although he didn't pay until investigators began asking questions.

Perez was arrested again in September 2009 when he was charged with first-degree criminal attempt to commit larceny by extortion and first-degree conspiracy to commit larceny by extortion. Those charges, prosecutors said, stemmed from an attempt to extort money from a private developer for the benefit of Abraham Giles, a former state representative and North End political operative who helped Perez with his 2007 mayoral campaign.

Giles was also arrested in September and charged with criminal attempt to commit larceny by extortion and conspiracy to commit larceny by extortion. City Councilwoman Veronica Airey-Wilson was arrested at the same time and charged with one count of fabricating evidence. Airey-Wilson's arrest was not related to the extortion case. She was accused of faking evidence to show that she paid for work done in her home by Costa, who told investigators he didn't expect to get paid in that instance, either.

Perez and Giles were charged in connection with a failed real estate deal involving a dilapidated property just north of downtown known as the Butt Ugly Building. Giles allegedly was to get a $100,000 "lease termination fee" to walk away from a city-owned, 40-space parking lot he managed adjacent to the property, according to authorities.

Joseph Citino, a private developer who was interested in buying the property, told investigators that he agreed to pay the fee because Perez told him he needed to "satisfy" Giles.

Perez has maintained his innocence throughout. Attorneys for Giles, who has applied for a special form of probation, and Airey-Wilson have also said their clients were not guilty of the charges against them.

Two others have been arrested in the investigation. Edward Lazu, a former city contract compliance officer accused of trading favorable treatment for Costa in exchange for a new driveway at his home, has also applied for the special probation. Carlos Lopez, a city businessman arrested in September and charged with three counts of fraudulent voting, paid a $4,000 fine and the charges against him were dismissed.

Santos has filed a series of motions seeking dismissal of the charges. In November, Santos also sought to have the charges resulting from the mayor's two arrests tried separately, arguing that combining them would result in a lengthy trial before a jury of "retirees, state workers or employees from larger corporations," preventing his client from being judged by the minority community he serves.

Alexy told Dewey that a combined trial would take about six weeks, following three to four weeks of jury selection.

Dewey combined the two cases, set jury selection for April and told Santos there would be no more delays.

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