PAUL’S DRUNK TANK
Candidate was arrested and jailed for DUI in 2002, talks about it as turning point >>
TRENTON >> The law and order candidate broke the law.
Former Army criminal investigator Paul Perez, who has repeatedly touted himself as a “proven executive” and the best candidate in this year’s mayoral race, acknowledged in an interview with The Trentonian on Thursday he got popped for driving under the influence while living in Virginia in 2002.
“It was the most embarrassing moment in my life, so embarrassing that I gave up drinking for life,” Perez said. “Everybody in this country has a moment in their life when they fall. The biggest thing is that you get back up and you accomplish great things and that’s what I’m doing.”
Perez, who has openly advocated for the backing of Trenton’s PBA Local 11, was pulled over in his BMW in Fairfax County, Va., on June 14, 2002, according to online records obtained by The Trentonian and Perez’s own account of the night.
Officials at the Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office confirmed the arrest but said they couldn’t provide additional details of the case. The Trentonian was unable to immediately track down a police report outlining the circumstances of the arrest.
Fairfax County General District Court officials said records are retained for only 10 years and then destroyed.
Perez’s DUI never surfaced when he ran in 2014, though he said he has openly shared his arrest with campaign workers and supporters.
“I never lie about it ever,” the 2014 runner-up said. “I do remember because it was such a devastating moment for me.”
He said he was upfront with fourth-place finisher Darren “Freedom” Green about his DUI bust prior to receiving his endorsement on Wednesday. Green did not return a call seeking comment.
Perez was asked to explain, if that was the case, why he never publicly acknowledged the DUI conviction until The Trentonian asked about it.
He said it was a painful moment in his life that he tried to “block out” of his memory.
Despite the discomfort of it, Perez gave The Trentonian his blow-by-blow account. He claimed he was driving in his brand new BMW when he was pulled over by the boys in blue for going 62 miles per hour in a 55 mph zone in Fairfax County.
Perez apparently performed shaky enough on field sobriety tests that he was hooked and booked on suspicion of drunken driving.
“The law at that time was a .08 and I blew a .08,” Perez claimed.
Perez was processed and placed in the “drunk tank” for four hours before he got out of the slammer, calling it one of the most embarrassing moments of his life that led him to swear off alcohol.
A Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office spokesman confirmed Perez spent some time at the Adult Detention Center but he “immediately bonded out.”
Perez said he’s been sober ever since that day he was locked up and hasn’t had a drop of alcohol.
“I’m proud to say that and I don’t even miss it,” he said. “And what I learned from it was that I don’t want to ever drink again because I don’t want to ever jeopardize my life, my family’s life and everything that I’ve accomplished.”
Perez called himself “not a common drinker,” describing his drinking habits of mostly throwing back a few cold ones during Friday night music sessions.
He and his wife explained Perez’s life changed for the better once he backed away from the booze as he led a guided tour of his house.
“It was a blessing at the same time because so many things changed once Paul stopped drinking,” Perez’s wife, Janet, said, noting her hubby also quit smoking.
“My focus became stronger. Because of my focus, my career changed,” Perez said immediately following his wife, adding he was able to spend more time with his family.
Perez pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor charge, his first and only DUI conviction, and was fined an unspecified amount and placed on unsupervised probation for three years.
Unsupervised probation is less restrictive than supervised probation, which usually entails visits from a probation officer, random drug tests and educational or rehabilitative classes.
When Perez, a former Trenton High dropout who eventually earned a GED and held various supervisor positions within the federal government, returned to New Jersey’s capital city, he set up shop at a popular bar to build his base.
“The Trenton Social is not just a bar,” Perez said of selecting the location, despite his dry lifestyle. “Trenton Social is a restaurant. You have children and families there so don’t call it a bar. It’s not like I went to the corner bar and hung out with the drunks.”
Perez, who seeks to become the city’s first Latino mayor, will face Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (DMercer/Hunterdon) in the June 12 runoff election.
Gusciora, who would have the distinction of being the city’s first openly gay mayor, declined comment about his opponent’s DWI. A search of New Jersey court records didn’t return any convictions on Gusciora, a municipal prosecutor in Lawrence and Princeton.
“I’ve got a nice, clean record,” Gusciora said.
Perez summed up his arrest as a “good guy” making a mistake.
“It was poor judgement on my part that I’m still paying for it today,” the mayoral candidate said. “I don’t see how any of this has any relevancy in a city like Trenton where you’ve got 16,000 people who are unemployed, you’ve got people who are dependent on drugs every day and all we’re trying to do is uplift people.”
Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (left) with mayoral candidate Paul Perez at the Trenton Social in 2014.