Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said Tuesday that he will seek to revoke the pension of former Mayor Eddie A. Perez, but the Superior Court judge who will ultimately make the decision could return all or part of it to his family.
Blumenthal said it will be first time that his office has invoked a law passed in 2008 after the corruption conviction of former Gov. John G. Rowland. Perez was convicted June 18 of five felony corruption charges and resigned Friday as mayor.
The law, which Blumenthal proposed, requires the attorney general to seek pension revocation after a public official is convicted on corruption charges. Blumenthal said Tuesday that he hopes the law will deter wrongdoing by public officials.
"We hope the court will send that message loud and clear," he said.
In making a decision, the law requires the judge to consider the damage done to the city or state by an official's illegal actions, the amount of trust or responsibility placed in the official and the needs of the official's innocent spouse or children.
Hartford Treasurer Kathleen Palm Devine said that Perez, 53, can choose to begin collecting a partial pension at age 55 of about $25,000 a year for the rest of his life. The former mayor would have to wait until he's 60 to receive a full pension of about $31,000 a year.
Perez's pension is based on the nine years he served as mayor at an average salary of $140,000 a year, Devine said.
The pension revocation law allows all or part of it to be diverted to an innocent family member. Perez's wife, Maria, suffered brain aneurysms in 2005 and has had several surgeries. Perez's defense attorneys alluded to her health during Perez's four-week trial, saying that her illness drastically affected his concentration and attention to details.
Perez was convicted of five felony charges, including bribery and extortion. He had been charged with receiving a bribe, fabricating evidence, accessory to the fabrication of evidence, conspiracy to fabricate evidence, conspiracy to commit first-degree larceny by extortion and criminal attempt to commit first-degree larceny by extortion. A jury found him guilty on all counts except a charge of fabricating evidence.
Hubert Santos and Hope Seeley, Perez's attorneys in his criminal case, did not return telephone messages Tuesday. It was not clear Tuesday if he has hired a different attorney to represent him in the pension case, which will be heard in civil court.
Blumenthal said how his office reacts to a request to divert all or part of the pension will depend on the evidence presented in court.
"Justice sometimes needs to be severe, but it also cannot be blind to basic fairness and humanity," he said. "That balance will have to be reached by the court."
Robert Wechsler, director of research for the nonprofit, nonpartisan City Ethics Inc., said that the 2008 law was well-crafted, but that it has its faults. He said that it was not fair to pursue the former mayor's pension for criminal conduct that occurred before the law was on the books.
"If the major concern is to prevent corruption, you couldn't prevent it before the law was passed," Wechsler said.
Blumenthal said the law specifically states that it should be invoked based on the date of conviction, not on the date of the offenses.
He said he would coordinate with Chief State's Attorney Kevin T. Kane, whose office prosecuted Perez, on when to file the case, most likely at Superior Court in Hartford. Kane declined to comment through a spokesman because the criminal case is ongoing. Perez is scheduled to be sentenced in September.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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