BRIDGEPORT, Conn. (AP) — The police chief of Connecticut’s largest city resigned Thursday hours after being arrested on federal charges that he teamed with Bridgeport’s personnel director to rig the hiring process to ensure he got the job two years ago.
Mayor Joe Ganim said that Chief Armando “A.J.” Perez resigned and that he named Assistant Chief Rebeca Garcia as acting chief after federal prosecutors in New York and FBI officials in Connecticut announced the arrests of Perez and David Dunn, the city’s acting personnel director.
Perez, 64, of Trumbull, Connecticut, and Dunn, 72, of Stratford, Connecticut, were each charged with wire fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud and with making false statements to investigators.
Both appeared via video before a federal judge in Bridgeport and were allowed to remain free on $150,000 bail. They did not enter pleas.
Messages seeking comment were left with Perez and his lawyer, Robert Frost Jr. Dunn’s lawyer, Frederick Paoletti, declined to comment. Their next court date is Sept. 24.
A criminal complaint alleged Perez and Dunn defrauded the city of 144,000 people by rigging the 2018 police chief examination to put Perez in position to secure the post as head of a police department with an annual budget of over $100 million and more than 400 officers.
The previous police chief had resigned in March 2016.
Acting U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss in New York City said the men corrupted what was supposed to be an impartial and objective search for a permanent police chief “and then repeatedly lied to federal agents in order to conceal their conduct.”
According to a criminal complaint in Connecticut, Dunn gave confidential examination materials in advance to Perez, including the grading criteria and oral examination questions, and tailored the scoring criteria in Perez’s favor. Perez, investigators said, also had two police officers secretly take the written exam for him.
Dunn also instructed officials to eliminate a scoring penalty imposed if the candidates did not have a bachelor’s degree, the complaint said. Perez was the only applicant without one, authorities said.
The maneuvers were designed to ensure that Perez, who had been with the police department nearly four decades, was ranked among the top three candidates and could thus qualify to be awarded a five-year contract as chief, the complaint said.
The terms of his contract included a $300,000 payout for accrued leave and an annual salary of about $145,000, the complaint said.
Perez and Dunn both were voluntarily interviewed during the FBI’s investigation, but they lied to agents to conceal what they did to corrupt the examination process, the complaint said.
Dunn, according to investigators, falsely denied that he told a member of the panel ranking the chief candidates that the mayor wanted Perez to be among the top three candidates.
The panelist, who was not identified in the complaint, told investigators that Dunn’s comment about the mayor was “totally inappropriate” and did not influence the rankings.
Ganim’s chief of staff told Dunn that the mayor had said the police chief testing must be conducted professionally, fairly and timely, as required by the city charter.
The complaint did not allege any involvement in the scheme by Ganim, who returned to office in 2015 after serving prison time for corruption.
Ganim did not directly respond to the allegations in the complaint.
“Certainly there’s a grappling for some of the answers as to what has happened, disappointment, uncertainty,” Ganim said in a Facebook video. “But I can tell you this, that the members of this administration remain committed to you as residents of this city … to public safety as a top priority.”
Ganim, a close friend of Perez’s, served nearly seven years in prison himself after he was convicted of corruption for steering city contracts in exchange for private gifts during his first tenure of Bridgeport mayor, which ran from 1991 until his resignation in 2003.
He was released from prison in 2010 and elected mayor again in 2015, after apologizing and asking residents for a second chance.
Associated Press writer Larry Neumeister in New York contributed to this report.