Bridgeport's police chief and its acting personnel director were arrested on federal charges of fraud in an alleged scheme to rig the city's examination process for the chief in 2018 to ensure his selection, the Department of Justice and FBI announced Thursday afternoon.
Chief Armando Perez, 64, and David Dunn, 72, are accused of manipulating the examination process and deceiving the city to get Perez, then acting police chief, selected for the permanent police chief position and awarded a five-year contract, according to prosecutors. The Justice Department also alleges in its complaint that Perez and Dunn were voluntarily interviewed in connection with an FBI investigation but lied to agents about material. Dunn oversaw the selection process in his role as acting personnel director.
Prosecutors allege Dunn stole confidential examination questions and provided them in advance to Perez, who enlisted two officers under his command to "secretly draft" and write his written exam, which they did on city time while on the job, according to the criminal complaint released Thursday. In addition, the complaint alleges Dunn had a consultant tailor the examination scoring criteria to favor Perez. The complaint said Perez directed officers to also write his resume and cover letter.
The terms of his contract included a $300,000 payout for accrued leave, the complaint said.
“As alleged, Chief Perez and Personnel Director Dunn schemed to rig the purportedly impartial and objective search for a permanent police chief to ensure the position was awarded to Perez, and then repeatedly lied to federal agents in order to conceal their conduct," Acting U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said in a statement. "Bridgeport’s citizens and police officers deserve leaders with integrity who are committed to enforcing, not breaking, the law, and we thank the FBI for their partnership in investigating and uncovering the scheme alleged.”
Perez, of Trumbull, Conn., and Dunn, of Stratford, Conn., are each charged with one count of wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, according to the Justice Department. Perez is also charged with two counts of false statement to federal investigators while Dunn is charged with one count of making false statements to federal investigators, according to a department press release announcing the arrests.
Each of the counts of fraud carry a maximum of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, Asst. U.S. Attorney Jonathan Francis said in court. Francis said each of the counts of making false statements carries a maximum of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Bridgeport is Connecticut's largest city with nearly 144,000 residents, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The city's police department has an annual budget of over $100 million and more than 400 officers.
“Today’s arrest of city officials including a high ranking, long-time law enforcement officer is a stark reminder that the betrayal of public trust and community members by a public servant is not only unethical but often illegal," FBI Special Agent-in-Charge David Sundberg said in a press release. "We recognize these arrests are not a reflection on the Bridgeport Police Department as a whole, but it is our responsibility to root out injustice and corruption by any and all elected and appointed officials entrusted to protect and serve with honor. We at the FBI will continue to aggressively pursue all those engaged in matters of public corruption throughout Connecticut.”
The previous police chief had resigned in March 2016.
A message seeking comment was left by The Associated Press with Perez’s lawyer, Robert Frost Jr., prior to an initial appearance Thursday afternoon in federal court in Bridgeport, at which he was freed on a $150,000 bond. Dunn’s lawyer, Frederick Paoletti, declined to comment. As part of his release conditions, Perez must surrender his passport and cannot have access to firearms.
The city of Bridgeport sent NBC Connecticut a statement Thursday afternoon saying the city learned of the arrests and charges in the morning but were not provided details.
In a view posted Thursday, Mayor Joe Ganim announced that Perez has resigned and that Assistant Chief Rebeca Garcia will be named interim police chief.
The full statement from Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security Director Scott Appleby reads:
"Bridgeport officials learned this morning that Acting Civil Service Director, David Dunn and Chief Armando Perez willfully presented themselves to the U.S. Attorneys office where they were charged with misrepresentation in relation to the 2018 Chief’s Exam. Since learning this information, but without details of the charges being brought forth, the administration has been reviewing these key positions to prepare to make any immediate and appropriate changes in personnel.The City Attorneys Office is now in receipt of the U.S. Attorneys release and reviewing the allegations in order for the administration to react and respond effectively. City officials will provide more information as soon as possible."
The judge set a probable cause hearing for September 24.