The jury in Hartford Mayor Eddie Perez's corruption trial restored our faith in common sense. The jurors arrived at a verdict with dispatch. Any way you spell it, backward or forward: guilty.
The Perez saga provided a view of life at the intersection of law enforcement and politics from the defendant's beleaguered corner. Perez claimed city contractor Carlos Costa performed valuable renovations at the mayor's home because they were friends. That Costa needed Perez's help with the mess he made at a city construction project had nothing to do with those home renovations, according to Perez.
That friendship, in Perez's version, ran in one direction. Perez scoffed at a $28,000 bill Costa presented and paid only $20,000 when the mayor needed to start renovating the trail to his new kitchen and bathroom. By his own admission, Perez lied to investigators when confronted with evidence of his misuse of office. According to Perez, he preferred lying to law enforcement officers to letting his city lawyer, who was in the meeting, know that he'd never paid for the work at his house.
An officer in the police department that Perez leads as the city's chief elected official would be fired for a similar offense, and vilified in the process. Yet Perez continued in office with that permanent stain. Some political figures of note have continued to seek Perez's support, which should dog them into the fall campaign.
Perez used his high profile to attempt to undermine the prosecution based on something other than the evidence. The public should long remember that Perez and his attorney, Hubert Santos, accused prosecutors of racism in pursing charges against Perez. As the evidence propelling the case unfurled, that ugly tactic has looked more grotesque and divisive. That was a political offense that should be remembered because too many remained silent.
While under siege by charges that carry up to 60 years in prison, Perez managed to offend even those who strained not to draw conclusions before the jury completed its work. Gloriosky, what was Team Perez thinking when it cooked up that dyslexia defense?
Perez, don't you know, has labored for years with that learning disability. Two members of his staff testified that they sometimes print e-mails for him to ease his burdens. They suggested that Perez's wife's illness, a frequent theme in the personal narrative the mayor likes to warble from his bridge over troubled water, made his dyslexia worse. No word on whether the staff helped with his secret "Willie Nunez" e-mail account several years ago.
The stress of a criminal trial and those 60 years had no discernible effect on Perez's ability to read messages on his BlackBerry during the trial. The dyslexia dodge — an explanation for not reading a crucial e-mail concerning the charge that Perez attempted to extort a bribe for a political ally — was especially striking coming from Perez.
The mayor, former Trinity college official and one-time gang member, is all about his own story. That hardscrabble life was celebrated when he ascended to the mayoralty a decade ago. Dyslexia would have added another hurdle that the self-reverential Perez could not have resisted sharing with the public at least as often as he highlighted his long-suffering wife's illness.
Most politicians facing the array of charges that arise from the misuse of public office would welcome an opportunity to refute them in any available forum. Criminal defendants, however, often prefer not to endure the crucible of cross examination, so they decline to testify, exercising a right vested in every American.
Nevertheless, the public raises a collective eyebrow when a politician fails to take the witness stand in his own trial. Perez, who proclaimed his innocence and impugned prosecutors outside the courtroom, declined last week to take the witness stand.
Perez's lawyers said the mayor wanted to testify about some charges but not others. To answer the prosecution's questions about his relationship with local political boss Abe Giles, the ancient former state representative, would confuse those simple-minded jurors.
Perez declared when the defense rested that he was satisfied he'd had his day in court. On that we can now agree.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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