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Hartford Mayor Perez Says He'll Fight New Criminal Charges

JEFFREY B. COHEN and STEVEN GOODE

September 01, 2009

HARTFORD - After announcing Monday that he would be arrested for the second time this year and face more criminal charges, a defiant Mayor Eddie A. Perez said he was innocent, "confident" he'll be acquitted and committed to staying in office.

"I am innocent of the charges against me and I will fight for the facts to come out because the truth is on my side," Perez said, standing at a podium in a crowded conference room in the office of his attorney. "Let me be clear: I will not resign. I will continue to serve the people of Hartford because they elected me to a job and that job is not finished."

Perez said his upcoming arrest is related to "allegations involving former state Rep. Abraham Giles." Neither he nor his attorney, Hubert Santos, would provide specifics.

But investigators have said in court documents that it was an early 2007 Courant story about a no-bid parking lot deal that the city gave to Giles that first stirred their interest. Investigators also pointed to a Courant story two months later that spelled out how Giles stood to get $100,000 from a land deal involving a private developer and the city. That deal, involving a building known as the "Butt Ugly Building," never went through.

Just when Perez will turn himself in is unclear. Sources familiar with possible arrests related to the grand jury's investigation said those arrests could come on Wednesday. Also unclear is how these new charges will affect Perez's pending trial on bribery and other charges relating to allegedly discounted work done at the mayor's home by city contractor Carlos Costa. Both men have pleaded not guilty; jury selection is scheduled to begin in Perez's trial next week.

Giles is being represented by attorney John J. Kelly. In a document previously filed with the state Supreme Court, Kelly said that the grand juror investigating the mayor had found probable cause that a client whom he did not name had committed two crimes.

Kelly wouldn't say much Monday.

"I will be able to say something when something official happens," Kelly said.

On Monday, fresh off first-day-of-school bus rides, Perez asked the city's residents for patience.

"The only thing I ask the citizens of Hartford is to let me have my day in court," Perez said in a prepared statement. He took no questions. "I want to be able to put the facts on the table and let the people know that there's more than the one-sided stories and the rumors that they have heard."

In addition to Perez and Giles, at least one other person could be facing criminal charges.

Attorney Richard Brown, who represents a client he would not name before the grand jury, said he expects his client to be arrested, too.

"I've been contacted by authorities concerning the imminent arrest of a client of mine in connection with the grand jury investigation," Brown said. "To the extent that my client may be arrested this week there's no claim that he did anything in concert with the mayor."

At least one other elected city official has been personally touched by the grand jury investigation. The home of Republican Councilwoman Veronica Airey-Wilson wassearched last year after she, like Perez, had work done by Costa.

She has said she did nothing wrong. Steven Seligman, her attorney, has been a presence, though, at recent court hearings concerning the grand juror's final report. On Monday, he declined to comment.

Deals Questioned

Perez was the subject of an 18-month secret grand jury into allegations of corruption at city hall. That investigation wrapped up earlier this spring. The grand juror, Judge Dennis Eveleigh, has sealed most of the report. The state's Supreme Court is considering The Courant's appeal of Eveleigh's decision.

Two years ago before the grand jury investigation began state investigators and prosecutors were looking at Giles, according to a search warrant application for Perez's cellphone records.

In that warrant, investigators traced their interest in Giles to two Courant stories one on the no-bid deal that ran on Feb. 3, 2007, the other on the "Butt Ugly Building" deal printed April 21, 2007.

In the first story, The Courant reported that Perez had awarded Giles a 3-acre surface parking lot downtown without following proper city bidding procedures and without the knowledge of the city council. The agreement was signed in November 2006, despite a request months earlier by the Hartford Parking Authority, which was interested in taking over management of the lot.

Perez critics said the deal was an effort to lock up political support from Giles' predominantly black voting district in an election year; Perez said at the time that he was unaware of the authority's interest and that the decision to give Giles a short-term deal for the lot was in the city's own interest.

The deal required Giles' company, G&G Enterprises Inc., to pay the city $1,000 in monthly rent in exchange for operating the 225-space lot at Main and Trumbull streets. The $1,000 figure was based on 14-year-old rates. Facing criticism, Perez later asked the parking authority to competitively bid the lot's operation, and it did. Giles didn't win the contract.

Then, in a story printed April 21, 2007, The Courant described another deal involving the city and a private developer that promised Giles $100,000. After that deal fell apart, the developer, Joseph Citino, alleged that he offered to pay Giles the money after Perez told him that Giles needed to be taken care of to make his real estate deal happen.

"He said very clearly: Make sure you satisfy Abe or there's no deal here," Citino said in an interview at the time.

Perez has long stuck by his original denial of Citino's allegations.

"I'm very clear about what I did," Perez said initially. "I asked them to get together to talk about, could [Giles] stay parking cars parking cars while the construction was going to start. Just parking cars on the city lot. And I asked them to see if they could get together to talk about that. That's it."

Another deal between the city and Giles later came to light the city in early 2007 paid a $10,000 bill to help clean out Giles' Windsor Street warehouse.

Mixed Reaction

Talk of Perez's fate has all but paralyzed city politics.Reaction to the news of Perez's impending arrest and his declaration that he would not resign as mayor met with mixed reaction from several council members. The city's charter says the nine-member council can remove any elected official from office with seven votes; none on the council said that Monday's news moved them to take such action.

Democrats Matt Ritter and Pedro Segarra could neither defend Perez nor call for him to resign because, they said, too many questions remained unanswered. Segarra said he was hoping for more from Perez on Monday.

"I'm disappointed he wasn't more fully forthcoming," Segarra said. "I think our citizens expect more."

Councilman Luis Cotto of the Working Families Party agreed that the issue has become a distraction, but said that wasn't reason enough to expect Perez to resign. Minority Leader Larry Deutsch, also of the Working Families Party, was less sympathetic, saying that Perez should resign, but not over his legal troubles.

Council President Calixto Torres and Majority Leader rJo Winch were firm in their support for Perez.

"That's his choice. He's within his rights" to remain in office, Winch said.

Only one councilman, Democrat Kenneth Kennedy, suggested that Perez should consider his options considering Monday's announcement.

"A leave of absence might be in his best interest," Kennedy said.

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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