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Connecticut Police Chief Faces Fraud Charges On Allegations He Rigged His Own Hiring

Bridgeport Police Chief Armando Perez was chosen to lead the department in 2018, but authorities said he and a city official schemed to help him with the police chief examination.
Bridgeport Police Chief Armando Perez was chosen to lead the department in 2018, but authorities said he and a city official schemed to help him with the police chief examination.

Federal authorities on Thursday arrested the police chief and the personnel director of Bridgeport, Conn., on charges of fraud, alleging the two rigged the process that led to the chief's hiring in 2018.

The FBI and Department of Justice said in a statement that the police chief, Armando Perez, and acting personnel director, David Dunn, are accused of manipulating the police chief examination to ensure Perez would be a finalist for the position and of making false statements to federal agents in the course of their investigation.

"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," said Acting U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss.

Perez's and Dunn's attorneys did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Thursday evening, nor did the Bridgeport Police Department.

According to the criminal complaint, the city of Bridgeport — Connecticut's largest — set out to fill the position of permanent chief of police in early 2018.

The city's charter requires it to hold an "open and competitive examination," with the top three scoring candidates moving on to the mayor's desk for selection. At the time, Perez was serving as acting police chief and Dunn was overseeing the examination process in his role as personnel director.

The complaint says that Dunn hired an outside consultant to assist with the development and administration of the exam and worked with Perez to manipulate that process "in multiple ways."

Specifically, Dunn is said to have stolen confidential exam questions and related information developed by the consultant and provided those materials to Perez. Dunn also had the consultant tailor the exam scoring criteria to favor Perez. He also allegedly attempted to influence a panelist tasked with ranking the candidates in the final stage of the exam, in an effort to make sure Perez was among the top three.

Perez is accused of enlisting two police officers to "secretly draft and write" his written exam.

"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," officials said.

The mayor ultimately offered the position to Perez, who entered into a five-year contract whose terms included a payout of more than $300,000 for accrued leave.

Authorities also said Perez and Dunn were voluntarily interviewed as part of the FBI's investigation, and each lied to agents during that process. For example, they said, Perez provided false and misleading information about the assistance he received, including regarding "his requests to a BPD officer to sneak into headquarters to retrieve stolen confidential information provided by Dunn."

Perez and Dunn are each charged with one count of wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, charges that each carry 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.

"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.

In a video message on Thursday, Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim said that Perez had resigned and that Assistant Chief Rebeca Garcia will take leadership of the department as acting chief.

Ganim said that his administration learned "in real time" Thursday morning that the two city officials had turned themselves into the U.S. Attorney's Office.

"Certainly there is a grappling for some of the answers as to what has happened, disappointment, uncertainty," Ganim said. "But I can tell you this: Members of this administration remain committed to you, as residents of this city ... committed to public safety as a top priority and we'll keep you advised as we move forward on this."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Rachel Treisman (she/her) is a writer and editor for the Morning Edition live blog, which she helped launch in early 2021.