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Eddie Perez's Lawyer Says Disclosed Information Prejudiced Jury


September 05, 2009

One of Connecticut's most notorious and in many minds, still unsettling criminal cases resurfaced Friday when embattled Hartford Mayor Eddie Perez tried and failed to have the charges against him dismissed by arguing that prosecutors intentionally prejudiced his prospective jury with the disclosure of secret and sensational allegations.

The earlier case, the State of Connecticut v. David Friend, riveted Connecticut in the 1970s before ricocheting across the country. It was still reverberating a year ago when a corrupt FBI agent was convicted in Miami of selling out to gangsters trying to penetrate the U.S. jai alai industry.

Hartford lawyer Hubert Santos, who represents Perez, argued in Superior Court in Hartford that the Friend case "eerily parallels" that of the mayor because "the state knew it would inevitably create such an onslaught of prejudicial publicity that the defendant, Mr. Perez, could not get a fair trial."

In Friend's case, a perjury charge ultimately was dismissed when a Superior Court judge ruled that "a conscious generation of bias on the part of the prosecutors makes a mockery of our system of justice."

Friend burst onto the scene as point man for a shadowy group of investors trying to build and operate a jai alai fronton in Connecticut, a state then moving toward the legalization of a variety of forms of commercial gambling. The evidence showed that Friend decided to lubricate the process with bags full of money. When he was found out, he told state organized crime investigators under oath that he delivered more than $200,000 to Democratic State Chairman John M. Bailey.

Bailey, who died shortly before the sworn allegation, controlled patronage, ruled the state legislature and may have been the most powerful politician ever in Connecticut. He also was the Democratic national chairman and was known outside the state for helping to orchestrate John F. Kennedy's election as president in 1960.

When Friend's allegation reached the newspapers, the state government and political establishment reacted angrily. Bailey was lionized. Friend was denigrated. Investigators, who never refuted the allegation, charged Friend with perjury.

The element that links Friend and Perez, according to Santos' arguments in court Friday, are grand jury investigations.

The grand jury in Friend's case was convened to investigate the jai alai allegations. Friend argued in court that its report should remain secret, as is customary in such cases, because its findings could prejudice his efforts to impanel an impartial jury in his perjury trial. For reasons that never became clear, the report was made public. It cleared Bailey and, by implication, condemned Friend. Bailey's supporters speculated that Friend kept the money.

When it came time for Friend's perjury trial, the late Simon Cohen, a Superior Court judge, dismissed the charge. He said the state's release of the grand jury report to the press was like "feeding meat to a hungry carnivore."

"As a result, the rights of David Friend were discarded in order to cleanse the good name of John Bailey," Cohen wrote in his opinion.

Santos accused state prosecutors on Friday of manipulating secret grand jury material, but in a different context. As did Friend, Santos argued that the grand jury material in the Perez case should remain secret. Prosecutors vigorously denied that they acted improperly.

Santos claimed that prosecutors tried to taint prospective jurors by disclosing part of a secret grand jury report on Hartford corruption in the warrant they drafted to arrest Perez on Wednesday on attempted extortion charges the mayor's second arrest in the multi-phase investigation. Lawyers in the case were to begin choosing a jury to try Perez on bribery and other charges this coming Wednesday. The bribery and other charges were filed in January following the first phase on the investigation.

State prosecutors said Santos' claim is without merit and they are entitled to use grand jury material in arrest warrants. Judge Julia Dewey agreed, but postponed jury selection until at least February.

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.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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