Appeals Court: Perez Should Get New Trials

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HARTFORD – A three-judge panel has overturned former Mayor Eddie A. Perez’s five felony corruption convictions, clearing the way for Perez to receive two new trials.

In a 47-page decision issued Monday, Chief Appellate Court Judge Alexandra Davis DiPentima, Appellate Court Judge Douglas S. Lavine and Judge Trial Referee Thomas A. Bishop concluded that there was enough evidence to sustain Perez’s convictions, but Perez’s cases on bribery and extortion charges shouldn’t have been combined into one trial.

Prosecutors have the option of appealing to the state’s Supreme Court.

Perez’s attorneys charged that his two cases — one on bribery charges and another on extortion charges — should not have been combined, and as a result the jury was unfairly prejudiced against Perez. Evidence from both cases was shown to the jury during the course of a single trial.

The attorneys said Perez wanted to testify in the bribery case, but not in the extortion case. The former mayor wanted the opportunity to explain why he lied to an investigator about having paid for discounted renovations to his home, attorney Hubert J. Santos has said.

But Harry Weller, a senior assistant state’s attorney, argued that the jury was properly instructed and it was clear that jurors understood the court’s direction because they acquitted Perez of one charge while convicting him of five others. The jury found Perez guilty of conspiring to fabricate evidence and being an accessory to the fabrication of evidence, but acquitted him of fabricating evidence — a signal that the jurors carefully followed the law, Weller said.

Weller pointed out that the trial court was willing to allow Perez to take the stand and testify in one case, while remaining silent on the other. But Santos said that Perez’s silence in one case but not in the other would have made him look even worse.

Perez, 55, also was convicted in June 2010 of receiving a bribe, conspiracy to commit first-degree larceny by extortion and criminal attempt to commit first-degree larceny by extortion. The trial lasted four weeks, and the jury reached its verdict after deliberating for about 10 hours over portions of three days.

Perez was sentenced that fall to three years in prison. His attorneys filed an appeal shortly afterward. Perez resigned his mayoral post a week after his convictions.

Prosecutors had charged that Perez accepted discounted home-improvement work from a city contractor, Carlos Costa, in exchange for the mayor’s help in holding on to a $5.3 million contract to reconstruct Park Street, a job mired in problems.

Costa and other witnesses testified that Perez assigned Charles Crocini, director of capital projects in the mayor’s office, to run interference for Costa and try to settle $1.7 million in claims from Costa for extra payments beyond the contract price, even though public works officials and an expert consultant said that most of the claims lacked merit.

The state also said Perez wanted North End politician Abraham Giles to be paid to vacate a parking lot on a sliver of land crucial to a developer’s plans for a condominium and shopping center. Prosecutors asserted that in 2007, Perez attempted to extort money from a private developer for Giles’ benefit, and, in return, Giles would secure votes for Perez, who was running for re-election.

Perez exploited Giles’ influence in the city’s 5th District, prosecutors said, steering lucrative no-bid parking lot deals and other business arrangements to Giles in exchange for a promise to deliver votes. Giles died in 2011.

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