HARTFORD, Conn. – Hartford's mayor turned himself in Tuesday on charges of having a city contractor do $40,000 in work at his home and paying for it only after being confronted by investigators.
Eddie A. Perez, a native of Puerto Rico and the first Hispanic mayor in the city's history, called his conduct inappropriate but said he did not commit a crime. He pledged to remain in office.
"I should never have used a city contractor to have done improvements on my home," Perez said Tuesday. "It was inappropriate and inexcusable. I should never have allowed the perception of impropriety to color my administration."
Perez, the Democratic mayor of Connecticut's capital city since 2001, was charged with receiving a bribe and falsifying evidence.
The contractor, Carlos Costa, told investigators he believed he would be shut out of lucrative city contracts had he not done the work for free, prosecutors said Tuesday.
Costa, who was awarded a $5 million city streetscape contract, did the kitchen and bathroom renovations at Perez's home in 2005. Perez paid $20,000 for the work in 2007, but only after being questioned by a grand jury probing possible corruption in city government, prosecutors said. Neither Costa nor Perez obtained building permits for the work, prosecutors said.
According to warrants in the case, investigators found "numerous instances" where Perez intervened in matters to help Costa, such as by pressing city workers to pay Costa's bills faster than other municipal contractors.
Costa was charged Monday with two counts of bribery, fabricating evidence and conspiracy to fabricate evidence in connection to the case.
Perez is charged with receiving a bribe, fabricating physical evidence and conspiracy to fabricate evidence. The felonies can bring a maximum sentence of five to 10 years in prison if convicted.
Perez grew up on Hartford's gritty North end and street gang leader before turning away from gang life in the 1970s and forming a neighborhood civic group.
Though technically powerless in the city's weak-mayor form of government, Perez upended Hartford politics by aligning himself with a Republican and a Green Party member to seize control of the City Council. In 2002, voters approved a charter change that shifted the power from the council to the mayor's office and made Perez the most powerful mayor in Hartford history. In 2005 he also took over the city's school system.
Another city hall employee, Edward Lazu, was charged with one count of receiving a bribe, fabricating evidence and three counts of forgery.
Costa did free driveway and sidewalk work for Lazu, who certifies contractors for city work, prosecutors said. Costa told investigators that he considered the work "the cost of doing business" in Hartford.
State investigators began looking into the Hartford government in early 2007, reviewing a $1 billion school construction project, deals with a city politician involving parking lots and other city business.
Authorities searched Perez's home in August 2007, and two months later the state put together an investigatory grand jury to look into possible wrongdoing in his administration. Although the investigation was revealed before the 2007 mayoral election in November, Perez easily won another term.
Perez's attorney, Hubert Santos, said the conduct outlined in the arrest affadavit doesn't constitute a crime. He said the mayor always intended to pay for Costa's renovation work, but that Perez was slowing in paying the bills because his wife became ill.
City Councilor Matt Ritter, also a Democrat, said he expects to the council to take "some immediate steps" in response to Perez's arrest.
At least three other Connecticut politicians have been accused of corruption in recent years.
In 2004, former Gov. John G. Rowland resigned and later served 10 months in federal prison after admitting that he traded political access for more than $100,000 in chartered trips to Las Vegas, Vermont vacations and repairs to his Litchfield cottage.
Former Bridgeport Mayor Joseph Ganim is serving a nine-year federal prison sentence for receiving nearly $530,000 worth of kickbacks and bribes by steering more than $2 million in city contracts.
Ernest Newton, a former state senator from Bridgeport, was sentenced in 2006 to five years in prison for taking a $5,000 bribe, using campaign contributions for personal expenses and failing to report the improper income on his federal tax return.