Former 75th District State Representative Victor Cuevas
Story By John Murray
Federal Judge Jeffrey Meyer sentenced former state representative Victor Cuevas to one-year probation and a $1000 fine for lying on a federal mortgage form. Judge Meyer said Cuevas had made an ill-advised plan to defraud a bank, but also had "remarkable support" in dozens of letters, and that "half the courtroom was bursting" in support of him.
Cuevas admitted guilt on June 20th to lying on a HUD mortgage form stating a $7000 loan from life-long friend had been a gift. As part of the application process for securing a low interest loan backed by the federal government, the applicant had to secure a $7000 non-repayable gift. Ironically, if Cuevas had not repaid the loan there would have been no crime.
Before sentencing, Judge Meyer allowed individuals to address the court to speak about Victor Cuevas. State Senator Joan Hartley spoke of Cuevas’s leadership in the South End community, and told Judge Meyer a story of Cuevas’s compassion in raising money to purchase backpacks for all the students in Waterbury. Hartley said she first met Cuevas on a basketball court when her kids were playing against a team Cuevas coached and she was impressed by his leadership, and his philosophy of playing every kid on his team, every game.
“As a rec director in the South End he was always helping families and trying to get someone a job,” Hartley said. “Victor was a surrogate parent and mentor to many kids, and he was recruited into politics because he was a leader.”
Several individuals said Victor Cuevas was a father figure to them and he had guided them away from trouble, and into a productive and professional life.
Adam Carusello told the court that his life had tumbled into drug addiction and although his friends and family had given up on him, Cuevas stuck by his side and got him into a treatment center. Carusello checked himself out of a treatment center to come speak to the court, and said he has been clean for five months. "Without Victor's support I would have become another statistic," Carusello said. “If he is not a good man, I don’t know what a good man is.”
And in a highly unusual move defense attorney Marty Minnella spoke in personal terms about his client, who he described as a friend. Minnella said Cuevas had come to him many years ago to ask for help providing Thanksgiving for 100 families from the River-Baldwin Recreation Center. Minnella agreed to help, and for years afterwards Minnella and his five children spent the night before Thanksgiving helping pack meals for the needy. Minnella said Cuevas has never lost his common touch and that Cuevas had brought Minnella back to his own roots in the South End, and back to reality.
Atty. Minnella told the court that Cuevas had overcome a broken childhood and had to fend for himself at the age of 15 by selling drugs. Minnella said Cuevas was nearly beaten to death as a young man involved in the drug trade, and was in a coma for three weeks.
“No matter where you come from there is hope,” Minnella said. “This man has changed thousands of people’s lives and incarceration would put a good man in a place he doesn’t belong.”
AAU basketball coach Wayne Simone has known Cuevas since youth basketball in the 1980s and said he considers Cuevas a brother. If you’re poor you strike a cord with Victor,” Simone said. It doesn’t matter if you’re Hispanic, black, white or Chinese, if a kid is hungry Victor will reach into his own pocket and feed the kid.”
Simone and others said Cuevas wasn’t perfect, but that he was needed in the community to continue his work mentoring and coaching kids, and providing a refuge inside the rec center.
When Cuevas addressed the court he was impassioned and on point. He apologized for his mistake and asked for his freedom so he could continue to help his people. During his presentation Cuevas turned and apologized to the prosecutor and FBI agents who had arrested him. Cuevas said he may have come off cocky during his dealings with federal agents, a bravado he'd learned when he was a teenager fighting on the streets for survival.
Judge Meyer complimented Cuevas for overcoming his challenging childhood to become a positive role model in the community. Meyer encouraged Cuevas to continue his pursuit of a PhD and complimented his “remarkable leadership and charisma.” The judge asked Cuevas a few questions and then asked if he had anything else he’d like to say.
“My son Christian just had a baby,” Cuevas said, “so I’m a grandpa.” The judge smiled, there was laughter in the court, and then it was federal prosecutor Sarah Karwin’s turn to speak.
Karwin said the government was not seeking imprisonment for Cuevas, but probation. She also said there had been some glossing over of the facts in the case by Atty. Minella in the media, particularly when he had been quoted as saying the case was, “Much to do about nothing.”
Karwin spoke bluntly and said Cuevas had lied on a federal form, lied to the press, and lied to his constituents. "While this is not the most serious offense we see in this courtroom,” she said, “when public officials break laws it creates cynicism, apathy, and is dangerous to our republic."
Karwin acknowledged that Cuevas was doing the right thing by taking responsibility for his actions. “When you mess up it doesn’t mean all hope is lost,” Karwin said. “Accept your punishment and move forward. I hope this is one takeaway from this case.”
When all the statements were completed, Judge Meyer said the good work Cuevas has performed in his life dramatically outweighed the offense he admitted guilt to, and said, "imprisonment was not warranted."
Cuevas, relieved, is looking forward to continuing his work at the rec center, and said that mentoring and inspiring kids was, "his purpose in life."
During his address to the court Cuevas said, "I'm going to own my mistake, but I'm not going to let it define my life."