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Philly DA Candidate Forced to Address Paralegal Found Dead in His Mansion

·6-min read
YouTube/A. Charles Peruto
YouTube/A. Charles Peruto

On first look, the campaign website for Charles Peruto Jr., a bombastic Republican attorney running to oust progressive Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, seems fairly standard, similar to those of many conservative candidates.

There is the section on “issues” like the opioid crisis and Black Lives Matter. There is one listing endorsements from various cops and judges. And a page titled “Enough Is Enough!” in which he says he’s running for one simple reason: public safety.

But then, there is a section, titled “The Girl in my Bathtub,” in which he has to explain the death of a woman at his mansion in 2013.

“There shouldn’t have to be a section for this on anyone's campaign site,” the candidate begins on the page, first reported by Raw Story, “but because some people will not let this go away, I must address it.”

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Peruto, who has spent 40 years in criminal defense law, has local name recognition for his record of representing high-profile defendants, including a slew of alleged mob bosses like Joey Merlino and Nicodemo Scarfo, and his dad, Chuck Peruto Sr.—whom Philadelphia Magazine described as “one of the most esteemed lawyers in Philadelphia history.”

But in recent years, Peruto has become more notorious for another reason: In 2013, a woman named Julia Law was found dead in his mansion in Philadelphia's Center City neighborhood. A maintenance man discovered her body, naked and facedown in a full bathtub of water. At the time, Peruto had been with family on the Jersey Shore, according to a report from the time by NBC 10.

The 26-year-old had been a paralegal in Peruto’s law office, where they struck up a romantic relationship. This was something of a pattern for the 66-year-old lawyer. As news of Law’s death broke, Peruto received a series of angry calls from a woman named Genna Squadroni. She was “his 25-year-old recent ex-girlfriend of three years,” Philadelphia Magazine reported, who had also worked in Peruto’s office—she had hired Law herself.

On his campaign website, Peruto describes the incident in a conversational tone: “In 2013, I was dating a girl for about 6 weeks, and didn't really know her,” he writes. “I learned more about her after she died by reading an investigative article done by Philadelphia Magazine, written by Lisa DePaulo, which opened my eyes.”

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The description clashes somewhat with the message Peruto shared on Facebook shortly after Law’s death. “It’s very hard to find someone who really matches you on all eight cylinders,” he wrote at the time, in a post cited by NBC 10. “I found my soulmate hippy, and can never replace her. We worked and played, and never got enough life...Earth lost the best one ever. Happy birthday baby.”

But on his website, Peruto concerns himself primarily with clearing his name of any accusations of wrongdoing. He points to a Medical Examiner's report, which found Law’s Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) had been .45 percent when she died—for reference, in Pennsylvania, a BAC of over 0.08 percent is considered over the legal driving limit.

“The cause of death was alcohol intoxication, but because she was found in my tub, everyone, including myself, assumed she drowned,” he wrote. “So many empty vodka bottles were found, it looked like there was a party in my house, but inspection of the security video of people entering and leaving showed only her.”

Peruto goes on to describe how he’d driven back to Philadelphia upon hearing the news, citing phone records that confirmed his location along the way. He gave a full statement to homicide detectives and surrendered his phone for a search. “The long story short is that I was not her only boyfriend, but it was my apartment where she expired,” he wrote. “If it was another boyfriend's apartment, you would have never heard of the case.”

At the time, then-District Attorney Seth Williams, whom Peruto described as a “bitter enemy” and who later resigned over federal bribery charges, brought the case before a grand jury to investigate the fatality. But the investigation ended without any evidence of criminal conduct.

The renewed scrutiny of Law’s death is just the latest twist in what has been an eventful and bitter race for Philadelphia’s District Attorney. Larry Krasner, the current DA, won the seat in 2017 on a platform of progressive criminal justice reform. After taking office in 2018, he dramatically changed the DA’s Office, firing 31 prosecutors from the former regime.

Within his first two months, Krasner announced that he would no longer pursue criminal charges for marijuana possession or cash bail for defendants accused of non-violent or misdemeanor crimes—two features of the justice system that overwhelmingly target Black and brown people.

Krasner’s reformist approach to the office and aggressive pursuit of police misconduct has angered right-wing and centrist Democrats in the city, who responded by endorsing alternate candidates in the upcoming election.

Krasner faces a primary challenge from Democrat Carlos Vega, one of the prosecutors he fired, who was endorsed by Protect Our Police, the pro-cop PAC largely funded by the Fraternal Order of Police.

On Wednesday, during a televised debate between the two, Krasner pointed to Vega’s track record in the DA’s office, having worked to re-try a man named Anthony Wright for rape and murder charges, in spite of exonerating DNA evidence that pointed to another man. The debate was heated, with Krasner calling some of Vega’s comments “a lasagna of lies,” and Vega telling the incumbent he was Krasner’s “worst nightmare,” in an off-mic interaction.

Following Krasner’s election, a series of progressive candidates won District Attorney elections in major cities across the country, from George Gascón in Los Angeles to Kim Foxx in Chicago, to San Francisco’s Chesa Boudin.

The right-wing Peruto is unlikely to prevail in deep-blue Philadelphia but the Democratic primary on May 18 could signal the long-term viability of reformers in top prosecutor seats.

An earlier version of this article misstated endorsements for Carlos Vega. The local Democratic City Committee declined to endorse Krasner, but did not endorse Vega.

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