Perez Faces Charges

Hartford Mayor Eddie Perez's arrest is the result of a 15-month grand jury investigation. (STEPHEN DUNN)

Hartford Mayor Eddie A. Perez will walk into a state police barracks this morning and surrender himself on bribery charges, a dramatic step in the corruption probe that has hung over the city and his administration for nearly two years.

State criminal investigators have circled Perez since early 2007, seeking documents and secret testimony on issues ranging from the city's nearly $1 billion school construction project to parking lot deals for an aging North End politician. In October 2007, the state formed an investigatory grand jury to probe allegations of political corruption in the mayor's administration.

In an interview in the office of his attorney, Hubert J. Santos, on Monday, Perez said the state's case against him appears to be related to the roughly $20,000 he paid city contractor Carlos Costa for a new kitchen counter and a renovated bathroom with two sinks, a whirlpool tub and a steam shower.

Costa, who has done millions in work for the city on a troubled and long-overdue streetscape project, was arrested Monday and charged with bribery, fabricating evidence and conspiracy to fabricate evidence, according to his lawyer, William Gerace. Gerace said Costa is charged in connection with Perez's home renovations.

As Costa worked on the city's Park Street streetscape, he also worked on its mayor's Bloomfield Avenue house beginning in 2005. He did so without proper permits, and some of the work was done by an unlicensed contractor. The work was completed in 2006, and Perez has said he did not pay Costa for it until July 2007.

Perez will face charges of bribery, fabricating evidence and conspiracy to fabricate evidence when he is arrested at the Troop H barracks in Hartford this morning. Despite the anticipated charges, Perez said he has no plans to resign or temporarily step aside. Echoing what he said after investigators executed a search warrant on his home in August 2007, Perez called his decision to hire Costa a "lapse in judgment."

"There is no excuse for it. I apologize for putting my family and my city under this situation," Perez said. But he added, "At the end of the day, a lapse in judgment is not a crime."

Chief State's Attorney Kevin Kane declined comment Monday. Santos said he did not know whether more charges were forthcoming.

Investigators began their probe in early 2007, but they formalized their interest in October of that year, when the state formed an investigatory grand jury to, among other things, compel testimony.

In December of 2007, the grand jury began its work in earnest, and in secret, as investigators brought witnesses one by one to a third-floor courtroom at Superior Court in New Britain.

The parade of city characters — elected officials, city employees, parking lot operators, developers and others — walked into a courtroom kept private by nothing more than a closed door and a few pieces of paper taped over its glass window.

Behind the door were investigators and lawyers from the chief state's attorney's office and a judge who served as the panel's sole grand juror. Initially put in place for six months, the grand jury has been given two six-month extensions. By law, it can last no longer than April of this year.

The investigation has dominated conversation in the city, as rumors of criminal charges have come and gone several times in the past 18 months, even as Perez handily won re-election in 2007. Through it all, the Democratic mayor has stayed largely silent on the investigation, ignoring criticism from some on the city council and from members of the public.

Now begins the defense.

The first step came Monday, as Perez and Santos sought an interview on the eve of the mayor's arrest.

The second step will come at noon today at city hall, where Perez intends to make a public statement and Santos will take questions. Santos counseled Perez Monday to refrain from answering questions directly related to the charges.

Santos said he will seek a speedy trial that could bring the mayor before a jury within two to three months. A long wait for a trial "basically emasculates his ability to govern," Santos said.

"We're going to ask for an immediate trial," Santos said. "We're ready to go to trial tomorrow."

Perez asked the public for its patience.