By Ann-Marie Adams, Staff Writer
Yesterday was a sad day in Hartford. But it wasn’t for the reasons some might think.
Hartford’s Mayor Eddie Perez was found guilty of five felony charges: bribe receiving, attempted first-degree larceny by extortion, accessory to evidence tampering and two conspiracy counts. He was acquitted of tampering with evidence.
Many folks are disgusted by the six-member jury verdict. That’s because some Hartford residents believe the mayor is not guilty. And they have plenty of reasons to believe Perez “did nothing wrong.”
Their belief stems from examining the state’s thin case against Perez. Prosecutors began investigation in 2007 after Perez sent a letter to the State Chief State Attorney Kevin Kane’s office asking him to investigate city developer Joseph Citino. In addition, the state began and ended with two rumors: Perez had city contractor Carlos Costa working on his house for free. And he repaid North End political boss Abraham Giles for securing votes.
The state, after investing almost two years and spending millions, failed to unearth any evidence of deep corruption—the kind of stuff news junkies salivate on. Instead, for more than two weeks, the media watched prosecutors mount a case filled with assumptions about a sequence of events that could and should have been interpreted other ways. For example, during testimony, the state’s key witnesses revealed that Costa’s work on Perez’s house was his first home renovation project. Costa never felt it was “the cost of doing business with the city” when he was raking in lucrative city contracts before Perez took office. Also, Costa was indeed a family friend and longtime contributor to Perez’s political campaign. So it was not far-fetched that Perez would think he was doing anything wrong if his friend, who happened to be a city contractor, worked on his house.
Though Perez might have believed that, however, he was grossly naïve. His judgment on the matter revealed a deep flaw and blatant ignorance of the law. And unfortunately ignorance of the law is not a defense. The flaw is that he relied on other people too much. And he was distracted by his wife’s illness. People close to him should have guided him on personal decisions that affected his public role.
As for the state’s claim that Perez asked Citino to “take care of Giles,” it is easy to see that if a squatter is on a property a developer wants, he had to actually take care of the unwanted tenant. It’s illegal to evict someone off a property even if the tenant fails to produce a lease. According to prosecutors, Citino confronted Giles, a shrewd businessman. And presumptuous as it may be, Giles wanted money to take care of his family “for perpetuity.” Who could blame him for countering a low-balled figure? That seeminlgy could have been the alternative and plausible explanation for the defense.
But a jury of mostly suburban residents agreed with the state’s assessment of the facts. And most journalists might agreed, too, when you take into consideration that even the appearance of conflict must be avoided at all cost, though it can sometimes be difficult.
Perez’s story is a cautionary tale for all politicians who might want to take a page out of former state Rep. Wilber Smith’s playbook when he was at the state Capitol. Someone allegedly tried to bribe the now deceased North End activist. He called a press conference to announce the attempted bribe before the alleged bribery could flip the story and accuse him.
But political playbook aside, some residents are disgusted by the verdict because it has a familiar ring to it and fuels a perception of an unjust system. According to them, Perez confronted a few political enemies who decided that he must be put into his place. And this is political payback.
They also surmised that the city’s first Latino mayor is the latest victim of a judicial system that favors some citizens over others. And that the court’s default position is to find the favored persons credible. This default mechanism has been built into the system over centuries and is hard to overcome.
Therefore, the system that convicted Perez is not OK to most people of color. And for some Hartford residents, Perez is not guilty because of that. They know Perez loves the city. And though he has had to “throw some people under the bus,” he is a tireless worker who wants to lift the city out of its decades-old morass of ethnic, political warfare, crippling poverty and wanton despair.
And it is, therefore, it is apropos to wish the Perez family well as they console each other over what was a very sad day for them and for the city if Hartford.