Bridgeport police chief resigns after being arrested, charged with fraud by U.S. Attorney, FBI for allegedly ‘rigging’ police chief exam

Connecticut

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. (WTNH) — Bridgeport Police Chief Armando J. “AJ” Perez has resigned after being arrested and charged with fraud by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York (SDNY).

According to the report from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Perez and the acting personnel director for the city of Bridgeport, David Dunn, have been charged with fraud “for defrauding the City by rigging the 2018 police chief examination, mandated by the City’s Charter, to ensure Perez would be selected for the position. Perez and Dunn were also charged with making false statements to federal agents in the course of the investigation.”

On Friday, officials received notification that Dunn has also resigned from his position, the Acting Personnel Director.

Acting U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss 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.”  

“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,” continued Strauss. 

“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,” said FBI Special Agent-in-Charge David Sundberg. “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.”   

Perez, 64, and Dunn, 72, are each charged with one count of wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, each of which carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.

Perez is also charged with two counts of false statements to federal investigators, and Dunn is charged with one count of false statements to federal investigators, each of which carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison.

Related: Protesters demand changes in Bridgeport police budget, policies

Perez was born in Cuba, and relocated to Bridgeport with his family in 1968. He and his brothers went to school in Bridgeport, and Perez later attended Sacred Heart University in Fairfield.

Perez became a Bridgeport police Officer on July 20, 1983 and rose steadily through the ranks.

In 2001, Perez became a lieutenant and served various roles at that level. He was promoted to captain in 2010 and then in July of 2013, Captain Perez was placed in charge of the Detective Bureau as Commander where he remained until his appointment as chief of police on March 1, 2016. He was sworn in as chief on Nov. 13, 2018 – following the exam from which these charges stem.

Following his arrest, he resigned from his position. Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim said he has appointed Assistant Chief Rebeca Garcia as the active chief effective Thursday, Sept. 10.

“I think the residents need to know, we all need to know that public safety and leadership at the top will remain committed to making this, in every way that we can, the safest city that we can,” Ganim said in a video posted to Facebook.

Garcia was sworn in Thursday night.

“To the mayor, thank you for entrusting me with such a high position in the city, the city that is going to continue to work for the betterment of the community,” she said during the ceremony. “My commitment is here. I will abide by my oath, sir. Thank you so much.”

The report from the SDNY includes the following details:

The Scheme to Rig the City of Bridgeport’s Police Chief Exam:

The charges alleged in the Complaint arise from a criminal scheme to rig the City’s search for a new Bridgeport Police Department (“BPD”) chief in 2018. During the course of this scheme, Perez – who was serving as the acting BPD chief at the time – conspired with Dunn, who is and was at that time the City’s acting personnel director, to deceive the City by secretly rigging the supposedly independent search process for a new BPD chief to ensure that Perez was ranked as one of the top three candidates and could therefore be awarded a five-year contract to serve as the BPD chief.

More specifically, in or about February 2018, the City commenced a search to fill the position of permanent Chief of Police. Under the City’s Charter, the City was required to conduct an “open and competitive examination” to determine the top three scoring candidates for the position, from which the mayor could then choose.  Dunn, in his role as the personnel director, oversaw the police chief examination process, and retained an outside consultant (“Consultant-1”) to assist with developing and carrying out the exam. Dunn and Perez then manipulated that examination process in multiple ways: Dunn stole confidential examination questions and related information developed by Consultant-1, and provided those materials to Perez, including by email; Dunn had Consultant-1 tailor the examination scoring criteria to favor Perez; Perez enlisted two BPD officers to secretly draft and write Perez’s written exam; and Dunn attempted to influence a panelist, tasked with ranking the candidates in the last stage of the exam, to ensure that Perez was scored as one of the top three candidates. 

As a result of the scheme, the City was deceived into ranking Perez among the top three candidates, which rendered him eligible for the permanent police chief position. The mayor ultimately offered the position to Perez, and the City, under the assurance that Perez had been appointed in accordance with the City Charter, entered into a five-year contract with Perez, the terms of which included a payout of more than $300,000 to Perez for accrued leave.

False Statements by PEREZ and DUNN:

Perez and Dunn were each voluntarily interviewed in connection with the FBI’s investigation. In an attempt to conceal their conduct, during those interviews they both lied to FBI agents about facts material to the criminal investigation. Perez provided false and misleading information about the assistance Dunn and others had provided him in connection with the examination process, including his requests to a BPD officer to sneak into headquarters to retrieve stolen confidential information provided by Dunn. Dunn falsely denied requesting an exam panelist ensure that Perez was scored as one of the top three candidates.

Statement from U.S. Attorney’s Office, Southern District of New York

The full report on the charges against Perez and Dunn can be read here.

This is not the first time a high ranking officials in Bridgeport has flirted with the law.

Mayor Ganim served in office from 1991-2003. In 2003, he was convicted on 16 federal corruption charges and served prison time from 2003-2010. He was elected Mayor of Bridgeport again in November 2015 – 12 years after his conviction.

With his re-election, Ganim was mayor when Perez was named acting chief in 2016.

The city of Bridgeport released the following statement regarding the charges against Perez and Dunn:

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.

City of Bridgeport statement

Governor Ned Lamont also spoke out on the issue, saying, “People are innocent until proven guilty, but it’s really important that people have confidence in their public officials and their police chief. I hope they sort through this quickly.”

Jazmarie Melendez, the sister of Jayson Negron — who was shot and killed by Bridgeport police in 2017 — was among a group outside of the department Thursday night. She said Perez’s departure is a step in the right direction.

“We’ve been calling for him to be removed this whole time in the last three years since my brother’s death and now we are taking a stand to say that should’ve happened already, and we want to make sure that he does not have any position in power moving forward.”

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