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Judge has harsh words for ex-Hempstead trustee Pettus for claiming innocence after guilty plea

Former Hempstead Village trustee Perry Pettus at the

Former Hempstead Village trustee Perry Pettus at the Nassau County Courthouse in Mineola in June. Credit: Howard Schnapp

A furious Nassau judge had harsh words for former Hempstead Village trustee Perry Pettus on Thursday when he showed up for sentencing on corruption charges after pleading guilty but then telling probation officials he was innocent.

Pettus, 63, took the guilty plea in June in Nassau County Court — admitting to more than a dozen charges that included bribe-receiving, grand larceny, conspiracy, official misconduct and tampering with public records and a witness.

Nassau Supervising Judge Teresa Corrigan told the former elected official then that she planned to sentence him to 2 to 6 years in prison under the plea deal.

But now that deal may be off and Pettus could face either more time behind bars or go to trial on six indictments, the judge indicated.

Corrigan said Thursday she already had expressed to lawyers for the prosecution and defense her “concern, slash, disgust, slash, anger" with what was in the presentence report that probation officials prepared in the case.

The document, a standard report in felony and serious misdemeanor cases, is designed to help a judge decide a defendant's punishment before sentencing.

“He stood before me on June 13 and admitted his guilt to numerous crimes, walked across the street, went to probation and told probation he was innocent of everything,” Corrigan added tersely.

The judge then laid out Pettus’ options as he listened at the defense table with one of his attorneys, the son of the attorney who accompanied him on the day of his plea.

Corrigan said Pettus could return to court next week with the first attorney “and explain what happened and readmit his guilt.”

She said she could give Pettus a higher sentence because he’d broken the rules related to what he was supposed to do after pleading guilty.

The judge also put forth another possibility: she’d give Pettus his guilty plea back and he could go to trial.

“We’re getting ready to try his co-defendant anyway, so it’s no skin off this court’s apple if we try two people instead of one person,” Corrigan said.

The judge ordered the former public official back to court on Oct. 10.

Prosecutor Lisa Berk said she “would have a lot to say” at that time about what Pettus had told probation officials. Pettus’ attorney, Scott Druker, declined to comment after leaving the courtroom.

Pettus’ guilty plea followed a litany of arrests since the summer of 2018.

Prosecutors had accused Pettus in part of 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.

Prosecutors also alleged Pettus took a 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.

The Nassau District Attorney’s Office also accused Pettus of mortgage-related fraud and involvement in 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.

After Pettus’ guilty plea, defense attorney James Druker said Pettus “accepted his responsibility" and was "going to pay the price for it."

Nassau District Attorney Madeline Singas said then that Pettus “betrayed his constituents” and also called on Hempstead Village to clean up abuses in government.

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