Jury deliberations begin in trial of Hartford mayor accused of abusing office for own gain

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — A state prosecutor told a jury Wednesday that Hartford Mayor Eddie Perez abused his office for personal enrichment, while the mayor's lawyer said prosecutors have no evidence to prove allegations he attempted extortion and accepted a bribe.

"He abused his power for his benefit," Michael A. Gailor, executive assistant state's attorney, said in closing arguments.

Gailor said Perez accepted $40,000 in home improvements such as granite kitchen countertops, a custom-made vanity, electrical work and a Jacuzzi without paying for the work or initially even asking for a bill.

Only when rumors circulated about the work at his house did Perez ask for a bill, which was cut in half, Gailor said. Less than two hours after he was questioned about it by authorities, Perez sought a loan to pay the bill, the prosecutor said.

"He wanted a bill, so he could say he was billed for it," Gailor said.

Perez lied to investigators about having paid for the work "because he knew what he had done was not legal," he said.

In return for the home improvement work, contractor Carlos Costa received help from Perez to keep a $2.4 million city construction project, Gailor said.

"That was a heck of an investment for Mr. Costa," he said.

Defense lawyer Hubert Santos said prosecutors lack evidence to prove their case.

"Is Eddie Perez a crook, or is he an honest guy?" he asked. "You don't have many crooks going to city hall every morning working, working, working."

Santos told the jury that Costa had no need to bribe the mayor because the two men were friends and political allies at the time.

"If he had a legitimate problem, he could get on the phone with Eddie Perez," Santos said.

Costa also was charged. He 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.

Santos said Costa earned the $2.4 million and did not receive it as part of a bribe. He said Perez failed to pay for the work because he was distracted by his wife's illness at the time, which also required a financial commitment along with the home improvement tab.

Perez showed "bad judgment" by hiring a city contractor to do work at his home, but no bribe was ever made, Santos said.

Santos also attacked the credibility of developer Joseph Citino, a witness during the trial. Perez and former state Rep. Abraham Giles are accused of trying to extort $250,000 from Citino, who wanted to purchase and develop city-owned property.

Giles has denied the charges; the criminal case against him is pending.

Gailor said Citino has accepted responsibility for his earlier crimes and did nothing wrong in the matter involving Perez.

Perez said before the start of the court session that he wants the trial behind him.

"I'm just looking forward to getting back to a normal life and being a good mayor," he said.

Jurors deliberated for a short time Wednesday afternoon, then went home. Deliberations were expected to resume Thursday morning.