Republican district attorney candidate Chuck Peruto in his campaign video

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Political candidates traditionally polish their campaign websites with succinct statements. They tend to avoid controversial topics. They most certainly steer clear of talking about their dark past.

None of that is true for A. Charles Peruto Jr., Philadelphia’s sole Republican candidate for district attorney in the May 18 primary election.

Media coverage of the race has focused largely on the heated Democratic contest between incumbent DA Larry Krasner and challenger Carlos Vega. But 66-year-old Peruto, known as “Chuck,” caught some national attention last weekend due to his campaign website, which features a tell-all about the death of a 26-year-old in his bathtub, plus a number of unconventional policy proposals.

Where traditional campaigns might favor brevity, the Republican candidate’s “about me” and “issues” sections run some 5,300 words, which Peruto said he dictated to his secretary, who typed them out.

The only thing missing from his original manifesto is the section about prosecuting “gay-bashing.” In a now-deleted blurb, Peruto argued he would protect LGBTQ crime victims by assigning what he later described to Billy Penn as a “very macho prosecutor” to their cases — “one who looks as opposite of gay you can imagine.”

An Overbrook native who was until recently a registered Democrat, Peruto is a four-decade criminal defense attorney. He’s represented high-profile clients involving serial killers and mafiosos, as well as everyday people facing DUIs and drug charges. A vocal Krasner critic, he said his campaign is focused solely on “saving the district attorney’s office” from the reform-minded DA. Peruto vows to drop out of the race entirely if Vega beats Krasner in the primary.

Running on the GOP ticket is never easy in a Democratic town. Records show Peruto’s campaign raised just $25,000 this year, with $18,500 cash on hand as of his most recent finance report.

Without a big advertising push, Peruto’s website is voters’ window into his campaign. Read on for some takeaways.

‘The Girl in my Bathtub’

This is the section that caught national attention last weekend.

The 18-paragraph entry recounts Peruto’s memories surrounding the death of 26-year-old Julia Law, a former paralegal for Peruto who died in his residence in 2013. Law’s body was found in the bathtub of his Center City apartment while the attorney and his family were vacationing at the Jersey shore.

At the time, Peruto wrote, the two had been dating for six weeks. He said he had no involvement in her death. Law enforcement officials at the time said Law died because she drank too much, had a seizure and then drowned in the bathtub.

On his campaign site, Peruto used the sad tale as an opportunity to trash former District Attorney Seth Williams, calling him a “crumb bum” for how he dealt with Peruto’s involvement in Law’s case.

At the time, Peruto wrote, he threatened to fight Williams outside the DA’s office, and the vendetta inspired him to dig up “dirt,” which he claims is the reason Williams ended up in prison.

“This is my complete explanation for the darkest moment of my life, and I’m glad I’m here to tell you about it,” Peruto wrote.

‘A very macho prosecutor’ to handle anti-gay hate crimes

If elected, Peruto would not tolerate “gay-bashing,” according to a now-deleted excerpt on his website — and he would address the issue by keeping people who look gay off the case.

“Having tried some three hundred jury trials, I know what it takes to win them, and it would not be my preference to have a prosecutor who would be remotely perceived as gay arguing these cases before a jury,” Peruto’s website once read. “I would assign an older, seasoned prosecutor who looks as opposite of gay you can imagine.”

Asked about taking down the policy proposal from his website, Peruto said: “The public’s not ready, it’s too controversial.”

Peruto then doubled down on his view that excluding someone who looks too gay from prosecuting anti-gay cases is an effective court strategy.

“When you have a very effeminate male prosecutor, it could possibly be perceived that the prosecutor if going after the defendants because he’s gay,” Peruto told Billy Penn. “I want to make sure we have a very macho prosecutor to defend the rights of gay people to live in harmony and in peace.”

Asked if he’d apply the same standard to a race-based hate crime, Peruto said no. He’d want a Black ADA on a hate crime case with a Black victim in order to “get through” to the jury, he said.

Pro-BLM, pro-criminal record expungement

Peruto’s views on criminal justice reform don’t fit neatly into the standard Republican platform of 2021.

On one hand, he does supports seeking the death penalty in some murder cases — something Krasner does not.

On the other hand, Peruto said he’s seen serious injustices in court over his decades as a defense attorney. Some state-mandated minimum sentences are onerous, he wrote, and criminal records are too hard to expunge. He says he’ll prosecute police officers who shoot unarmed people. Unlike many of his Republican peers, he’s a fan of the Black Lives Matter movement.

“Maybe Whites can take a moment from their daily schedule, sit down, and actually listen to what Black Lives Matter truly means and stands for,” Peruto wrote. “It doesn’t mean that White lives don’t matter or that Black lives matter more than White. It simply means hey, what about us?”

‘Forced rehab’ in city’s shuttered jails

Peruto argues Krasner went too far by halting prosecutions for shoplifting and other offenses like prostitution and narcotics possession — issues that are often intertwined for people suffering from addiction.

“If they are not being prosecuted, then there is no carrot we can dangle to make them earn their way out of the justice system by getting clean,” Peruto wrote.

On the opioid crisis, Peruto supports what he calls “tough love” policies and “forced rehabilitation” for the city’s opioid users,” and suggests turning the city’s decommissioned jails into “first class detox facilities.”

New ‘special’ assistant prosecutors

Peruto wants new mandatory minimums for gun crimes, even when it’s a first offense and no one gets hurt. He’ll move those cases through court with an elite squad known as the “SPECIAL ASSISTANT DISTRICT ATTORNEYS.”

Illegal possession of a gun would earn two years, and then five years for your second offense. “Any shooting on the streets of Philadelphia where a bullet could even possibly hit an innocent bystander” would get you 10 years at minimum.

The fleet of “special” ADAs would earn higher salaries due to their courtroom experience, Peruto wrote, and they would treat each case “like it’s their most important matter of their career.”

Smoking weed and video games is cool, just not near school

Peruto says he supports decriminalizing most marijuana offenses.

But if you’re smoking weed near a school — or in a way that somehow “affects gun violence” — he would come down hard. Marijuana offenses near schools won’t just be enforced with a fine, as they are now. “If you don’t go to jail for doing that then you’re lucky,” he wrote on his website.

What happens inside your house, though, is nobody’s business.

“If you want to smoke it in your own home and play video games,” he wrote, “there is not much I will or should do about it.”

Peruto’s 35-minute campaign ‘ad’

Want to learn more? In another unconventional move, Peruto has a 35-minute campaign ad online in which he expounds on all these topics and more.

YouTube video
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Michaela Winberg

Michaela Winberg is a general assignment reporter at Billy Penn. She covers LGBTQ people and culture, public spaces, and transportation and mobility. She also sometimes produces radio and web features...