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Ex-Hempstead Village trustee Perry Pettus tells judge, 'I'm a dirty politician'

Perry Pettus, the former Hempstead Village trustee who

Perry Pettus, the former Hempstead Village trustee who admitted to taking bribes, appears at the Nassau County Courthouse in Mineola on Wednesday. Credit: Howard Schnapp

A former Hempstead Village trustee told a judge Wednesday that he was a "dirty politician" who took bribes, backing away from his statement to probation officials that he was innocent of corruption charges he had pleaded guilty to in June.

Nassau Supervising Judge Teresa Corrigan chided Perry Pettus for his "complete disregard" of proper court procedure and threatened to impose a stiffer sentence for lying to a county probation officer about his guilt.

Pettus, 63, has admitted to more than a dozen charges that include receiving bribes, grand larceny, conspiracy, official misconduct and tampering with public records and a witness.

In June, Corrigan indicated that she would sentence the former elected official to 2 to 6 years in prison under the plea deal. But a clearly frustrated Corrigan said Wednesday she was considering boosting the sentence to 2 1/3 years to 7 years.

"The defendant blatantly disregarded the court's order when he walked across the street [after his guilty plea] and lied to probation," Corrigan said. "I don't know that I can let that go."

Pettus teared up as he apologized to the court and told Corrigan, for the second time in three months, that he was guilty of all charges and that he had taken multiple bribes.

"My pride and ego got in the way," Pettus said of his statement to probation officials. "I'm a dirty politician. I didn't mean to change my story."

Voters first elected Pettus, Hempstead’s former deputy mayor, to the village's board of trustees in 2002. He didn't seek re-election to the seat before the March election.

Pettus has confessed to pocketing more than $25,000 in bribes by extorting two local Hispanic restaurateurs with the help of businessman William Mendez, who has pleaded not guilty and is awaiting trial.

The two threatened to drive the victims out of business if they didn’t pay protection money, prosecutors said. Pettus, in turn, ensured that Mendez's businesses got favorable treatment from the village, including by fast-tracking business permits and licenses, officials said.

Pettus also pleaded guilty to taking a $1,000 cash bribe from village Deputy Police Chief Richard Holland in exchange for a vote to promote Holland — who also was indicted and maintains his innocence.

And Pettus has admitted to his role in a mortgage-related fraud and a ticket-fixing scheme that led to the indictments of village police Chief Paul Johnson, village police Sgt. Joseph Savino — both of whom pleaded not guilty — and Mendez.  

Prosecutors said Johnson illegally tossed four traffic tickets at the request of Pettus, who was acting for Mendez. Days later, Pettus was among those who interviewed Johnson, then a lieutenant, for a promotion before voting in June 2018 to name him acting police chief, prosecutors said.

Shortly after his guilty plea, Corrigan said Pettus denied or minimized his role in the ticket-fixing scheme, extortion plot and bribe-taking, according to a presentencing report that probation officials prepared in the case. The report is designed to help a judge decide a defendant's punishment before sentencing.

Prosecutor Lisa Berk urged Corrigan to consider a maximum sentence of 5 to 15 years in prison for Pettus' "shameless lies."

"He flagrantly minimized or denied responsibility for any of his actions," Berk said. "There should be consequences."

James Druker, Pettus' defense attorney, invoked sports, entertainment and political comparisons to diminish the importance of his client's admitted falsehoods. 

Druker noted that former Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez had forged a successful broadcasting career despite lying about his use of performance-enhancing drugs while ex-New York Gov. Elliot Spitzer ran again for public office after admitting to lying about patronizing a high-end prostitution ring.

And he said his client had already performed the "walk of shame," in confessing to his crimes — a reference to the HBO hit "Games of Thrones."

"They were all forgiven," Druker said. "You can't hold it against [Pettus] forever."

Pettus is due back in court for sentencing on Nov. 19.

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