HARTFORD, Connecticut — The Connecticut Appellate Court on Monday overturned the corruption convictions of former Hartford Mayor Eddie Perez and ordered new trials that separate the bribery and extortion charges against him.
Perez, the city's first Hispanic mayor, was convicted in 2010 of accepting a bribe from a city contractor in the form of home improvements and trying to extort $100,000 from a developer. He was sentenced to three years in prison but is free on an appeal bond.
The state's second-highest court ruled the charges against him were improperly combined into one case. The court found that while evidence existed to support the convictions, Judge Julia Dewey's decision to combine the cases in a single trial was unfair to Perez.
Defense lawyer Hubert Santos had argued that trying both cases together stacked the deck in a climate where political corruption in Connecticut had been front-page news. He also argued that by presenting a defense in a single trial, the mayor was unable to testify in the bribery case while maintaining his right not to take the stand in the extortion case.
"Despite the orderly manner in which the state presented the evidence, first of the bribery case and then of the extortion case, we conclude that the jury was not able to consider each charge separately and distinctly," Chief Judge Alexandra DiPentima wrote.
Santos did not immediately respond to a request Monday seeking comment.
Mark Dupuis, a spokesman for the Chief State's Attorney's Office, said prosecutors were reviewing the opinion on Monday. They have the option of dropping the cases, going forward with new trials, or appealing to the state Supreme Court.
Perez, 56, was first arrested in January 2009. He was charged with receiving a bribe from a city contractor and friend, Carlos Costa, by paying only $20,000 for $40,000 worth of home renovations performed by Costa. He paid that much only after he was questioned by a grand jury about the improvements, prosecutors said. Costa told authorities he didn't expect to get paid for the home improvements because that was the "cost of me doing business with the city," according to an arrest warrant affidavit.
In the second case, Perez was arrested in September 2009 when state authorities charged him and former state Rep. Abraham Giles of Hartford with trying to extort a $100,000 payment to Giles from a developer who wanted to buy city-owned property. The alleged deal never went through.
Perez is a one-time gang leader who rose from an impoverished childhood to become a community activist and, in 2001, mayor of Connecticut's capital city. He resigned the mayor's job in 2010 after he was convicted.