Former Hartford Mayor Eddie Perez pleaded guilty Thursday to charges he accepted a bribe from one contractor and tried to extort another, ending a decade-long saga that forced him from office in 2010, changed this city’s political landscape, and forever linked his “local boy does good” story with the word corruption.
Appearing in a largely empty courtroom with only his lawyer at his side, the once powerful Perez twice told the judge he was guilty of the charges he spent years fighting. But while the original conviction came with a three-year sentence, his guilty pleas for two felonies come with no prison time at all.
Perez was sentenced to an eight-year suspended sentence, with a conditional discharge -- which amounts to unsupervised probation. The state attorney general also said in a statement that the office will seek to "revoke or reduce his pension."
The former mayor confessed his guilt to the same judge who tried him back in 2010 -- but whose decision to combine the two cases against him eventually lead the state Supreme Court to overturn the verdicts and order two new trials.
Explaining his decision to enter into an agreement with Perez, Prosecutor Michael Gailor told the court the move avoids a costly retrial, spares the city the spectacle of another weeks-long affair, and makes sense because so much time has passed and Perez has not reoffended. And there was one other factor.
“Mr. Perez is willing to stand up here and accept responsibility,” Gailor said. When it came time for Judge Dewey to sentence Perez, she said she was inclined to accept the agreement because “he returned to his original roots of community organizing” since his 2010 conviction. But she recalled the initial tension between those roots and the crimes Perez committed.
“I couldn’t understand how he fell so far from what was good,” Dewey said.
Before sentencing, prosecutors recounted Perez’s crimes for the court. In one scheme, he accepted deeply discounted home renovations from a city contractor who was both underperforming and late on a multi-million dollar city project. As he detailed the allegations against Perez, Gailor told the court contractor Carlos Costa never gave Perez a bill for home improvement work, and Perez never offered to pay. Costa, Gailor said, considered the bribe “a cost of doing business in Hartford.”
In the second case, Perez tried to extort a city builder, Joseph Citino. Specifically, Perez allegedly told Citino that he would “have to take care of” a Hartford political power broker in order to get the rights to a development project. That eventually ended up with an agreement to pay that power broker, former state Rep. Abe Giles, $100,000.
Perez said little at the hearing, other than to answer the court’s questions and enter his guilty pleas. But his lawyer, Hubert Santos, told the court that Giles “got every patronage job known to man” and that working with him was what people who came up in Hartford politics had to do.
“That’s old-time Hartford politics,” Santos said, regarding the attempted extortion allegation. “That’s the way things worked in Hartford. I’m not saying it’s right, but that’s how it worked.”
Outside the courthouse, Santos said Perez was ready to move on.
“He’s incurred over a million dollars in legal fees, he’s had a hard time with employment,” Santos said. “Now he wants to get back to his wife, his children, his grandchildren, and put an end to this endless litigation.”
Santos would not comment when asked who is paying those legal bills. And Perez did not respond when asked if he planned to run again for political office.
But while this legal issue is all but over for Perez, another may yet be in the works. Perez is eligible for a municipal pension, but the Office of the Attorney General said in a statement it will seek to challenge the pension.
"Mr. Perez has pleaded guilty to two felony charges related to his public position," the statement said. "Accordingly, and pursuant to the pension revocation statute, the Attorney General will be filing a civil complaint with the Superior Court in Hartford seeking to revoke or reduce his pension."
Santos suggested he saw that coming.
“We’re going to have to fight on that,” Santos said.