Eddie Alberto Perez, the city's first Hispanic mayor, who promised an era of reform and accountability when he was elected nearly a decade ago, was sentenced to three years in prison Tuesday for accepting deeply discounted home repairs and trying to extort a payoff on behalf of a political ally.
The sentence, which came more than two months after a jury convicted Perez of five felony corruption charges, also includes three years of probation. No restitution will be sought, Superior Court Judge Julia D. Dewey said.
"This is not a victimless crime, as many stated," Dewey told Perez. "The victims were the people of the city of Hartford.
"You violated a public trust."
Moments before he was sentenced, Perez addressed the court, vowing to make amends for his actions, which he acknowledged had "reduced the confidence the public has in elected officials."
"I will live with the consequences of my actions for my entire life," he said. "The city has suffered. My family has suffered. I have suffered.
"Each and every day for the rest of my life I will make amends and pursue forgiveness."
Perez resigned June 25, one week after a jury found him guilty of corruption-related charges that included bribery and extortion.
Prosecutor Michael Gailor recommended that Perez be sentenced to five years in prison. Gailor said the sentence should serve as a deterrent to others who might choose to engage in corrupt behavior.
He also recommended three years of probation and a requirement that Perez not hold public office during the probationary period.
"The mayor was willing to jeopardize the interests of the city of Hartford for his own personal gain," Gailor said. He called Perez's breach of public trust "the most significant cost" of his actions.
Prosecutors charged that Perez accepted discounted home improvement work from a city contractor, Carlos Costa, who they said needed Perez's help to hold on to a $5.3 million contract to reconstruct Park Street, a job mired in problems.
Costa and other witnesses testified during the four-week trial that Perez assigned Charles Crocini, director of capital projects in the mayor's office, to run interference for Costa and try to settle $1.7 million in claims from Costa for extra payments beyond the contract price, even though public works officials and an expert consultant said that most of the claims lacked merit.
The prosecution also asserted that Perez wanted North End politician Abraham Giles to be paid to vacate a parking lot on a sliver of land crucial to a developer's plans for a condominium and shopping center.
Attorneys for Perez, 52, said Tuesday that they plan to appeal.
Before his rise to the city's top office, Perez was widely praised for his work as a community organizer. He played a key role in projects such as the city's Learning Corridor, a campus of four new public schools.
With his history of volunteer work and strong ties to the community, Perez pledged during his 2001 campaign for mayor to bring about change in a city wounded by scandals and incompetence in schools and city hall.
"A lot of people were excited," said Hartford Town and City Clerk John V. Bazzano, who was city council president in 2003. "Eddie had a lot of energy and ideas."
Mayor Pedro Segarra, the former city council president who replaced Perez, said Perez had brought with him a belief that he could accomplish great things. And he did that in the areas of affordable housing and educational reforms, Segarra said.
"I think that legacy is not one that anyone can deny," he said.
Bazzano said the council was ready to work with Perez to turn the city in the right direction, but the cooperative atmosphere began to change when word leaked out in 2007 about the investigation into Perez's dealings with Costa.
"It was a low murmur at the time and there was still some optimism," Bazzano said, "but once the murmur turned into a roar, people started jumping off the bandwagon."
In asking the judge for leniency Tuesday, family and friends of Perez recalled aspects of his earlier life.
Perez was the person who encouraged others to go back to school and apply for better jobs, they said. He was the first from his family of nine children —raised by a single mother — to graduate from high school and attend community college.
"His firsthand experience with a life of trials, tribulations and struggles made him want to ‘fix' his community, an almost insurmountable task that he took on as a young man and throughout his life," his mother, Felicita Perez, wrote in a letter to the judge. She was one of more than 200 people who submitted letters of support for Perez.
"Since I can remember, he has had a relationship with Hartford, not just a job in Hartford," wrote his daughter, Cierra Perez. "You could even say he is married not only to my mother, but also to the city of Hartford."
Perez's sister, Jeanette, said her brother's humble background motivated him to serve others.
"There is no other way to explain the situation than an aberration," she told the judge on Tuesday. "The man we know is not a self-serving man."
After his sentencing Tuesday, Perez posted bail and was released. His lawyers said they will appeal.
William Perez, the former mayor's eldest brother, said outside the courthouse that the family "still has a fighting chance."
"We'll continue to give Eddie as much support as we can. We hurt for him," he said. "He feels bad for the town, bad for the city of Hartford. He'll come out of this a better man — for what it's worth."
As for the city, Segarra said it will take time to rebuild public trust.
"In my 90 days in office, as much as I try to highlight the positive stuff, the negative just gets more attention," Segarra said.
The city needs to transform from a longstanding, outdated system of political patronage that can lead to criminal activity, he pointed out.
But some, like Bazzano, say they are confident the city will recover.
"We're pretty resilient," he said, "and Pedro is bringing back some optimism."
Courant staff writer Steven Goode contributed to this story.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun