HARTFORD, Conn. – Mayor Eddie Perez on Wednesday surrendered to state police for the second time this year to face corruption charges, this time on allegations he and a former state lawmaker tried to extort money from a real estate developer.
Perez, who was charged in January with taking a bribe from a city contractor, and former state Rep. Abraham Giles turned themselves in at the Hartford state police barracks and were charged with attempted extortion and conspiracy.
The Democratic mayor vowed to remain in office and denied the allegations during a City Hall news conference that resembled a campaign rally.
"Today I want the people of Hartford ... to know that truth is on my side," Perez told a crowd of supporters, who cheered and chanted "Eddie, Eddie."
"I committed no crime and I will be vindicated of all the charges that have been levied against me," he said. "And I want my day in court."
Prosecutors allege that Perez and Giles attempted to extort $250,000 from developer Joseph Citino, who wanted to purchase and develop city-owned property on Main Street that included a large, dilapidated building.
Giles leased a parking lot on the property from the city for $500 a month and subleased it to a parking company for $2,250 a month, according to an affidavit.
The mayor eventually arranged for Citino to pay Giles $100,000 as part of the sale, but the deal never went through, prosecutors allege.
Giles, a fellow Democrat and Perez supporter who served in the Legislature from 1972 to 1988, also denied wrongdoing.
"I have a very difficult time conceiving of how an 83-year-old man extorts anyone," said John Kelly, his attorney.
Two other people, a city councilwoman and a businessman, also were charged Wednesday in the corruption probe that began nearly two years ago. State investigators and a judge acting as a grand jury have been looking into the parking lot deal and other possible corruption.
Perez, a one-time gang leader who turned his life around and is now in his third term as mayor, was charged in January with taking a bribe from a city contractor who renovated his home. Authorities say Perez didn't pay for the work until after investigators questioned him about it. The contractor, Carlos Costa, was arrested earlier this year.
Perez also denies those allegations. A trial is tentatively set to begin in November.
His defense lawyer, Hubert Santos, filed a motion Wednesday to dismiss all the charges, saying authorities — by releasing details of Wednesday's arrest — violated a court ruling that sealed the grand jury report. Santos said Perez cannot get a fair trial, and he will ask that next week's jury selection be postponed.
"The state's attorney deliberately filed these charges intentionally to defeat our ability to have a jury trial and vindicate the mayor of the charges that were pending since January," Santos said.
Chief State's Attorney Kevin Kane declined to comment on that allegation.
The state Supreme Court late Wednesday ordered the release of the grand jury's interim report, but said the final report could remain sealed because it contained information that could harm the reputations of people who are not charged.
Mark Dupuis, a spokesman for Kane's office, said the interim report would not be available Wednesday.
Also charged Wednesday were city Councilwoman Veronica Airey-Wilson, 56, and Carlos Lopez, a businessman who had contracts with the city to operate a parking garage.
Airey-Wilson was charged with fabricating evidence. Prosecutors said she provided falsified evidence that showed she paid for granite countertops installed in her home by Costa.
Airey-Wilson denied any wrongdoing.
"I have always served with an immaculate record and my record has been impeccable and I am truly angered that they can bring these false charges," she said. "I've helped thousands of people in this city."
Lopez, 63, of Farmington, was charged with three counts of fraudulent voting. Prosecutors say he illegally voted in three Hartford elections between 2004 and 2007.
Lopez, reached at his Farmington home, declined to comment.
Perez, Giles, Airey-Wilson and Lopez were released on written promises to appear in Hartford Superior Court next Tuesday.