Prior to entering politics, Perez worked as a community activist as he matured. In 2007, Perez was brought before a grand jury to investigate charges of corruption, which resulted in the January 29, 2009, filing of a warrant for Perez's arrest on bribery, fabricating evidence, and conspiracy to fabricate evidence.
Perez was elected as the first Latino mayor of Hartford in 2001. Under 2002 changes to the city charter, he became the Chief Executive Officer of the City of Hartford. He was re-elected in 2003. Since his tenure as mayor Perez has come under fire for alleged corruption, reported and uncovered by The Hartford Courant and reporters Daniel E. Goren and Jeffrey B. Cohen. However, he was endorsed by the Courant editorial board for re-election in 2007 and beat multiple opponents to win a primary and general election.
In summer 2007, Perez announced that his home had been searched by investigators probing work done on his home by a contractor who had received city business.
On January 27, 2009, an arrest warrant was filed for Perez's arrest on bribery, fabricating evidence, and conspiracy to fabricate evidence. The warrant, which credited The Hartford Courant for prompting the investigation, alleged that Perez had work done on his home by city contractor Carlos Costa, who was also arrested. Perez turned himself in to state police, stating that he had a lapse in judgment but did nothing illegal, and vowed that he would not step down as Hartford's mayor.His attorney alleged in fact, the state had failed to even prove probable cause for his arrest.
Perez turned himself in to state police, and has vowed not to step down as Hartford's mayor. His trial date has been postponed to November 2009.