Conn. police chief, city official plead guilty in hiring scam

The two men pleaded guilty on charges related to rigging the search for a police chief

By Edmund H. Mahony
The Hartford Courant

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — Two formerly high-ranking political appointees in Bridgeport admitted in federal court Monday that they rigged what was advertised as a national talent search for a new police chief to increase the likelihood that one of them got the job.

Former police Chief Armando J. Perez and city personnel director David J. Dunn pleaded guilty to reduced charges of conspiracy to commit fraud and lying to FBI agents just weeks after their arrest and the disclosure that agents had photographs, voice recordings and email and text messages documenting a conspiracy that lasted months. Both resigned within hours of their arrests on Sept. 10.

Former Bridgeport Police Chief Armando Perez leaves Federal Court in Bridgeport after pleading guilty Monday, Oct. 5, 2020.
Former Bridgeport Police Chief Armando Perez leaves Federal Court in Bridgeport after pleading guilty Monday, Oct. 5, 2020. (Brad Horrigan/Hartford Courant via AP)

Both men — Perez is 64 and Dunn is 73 — face prison sentences in the 18 to 24 month range under federal sentencing guidelines. They can argue for something less when they return to court in early January and U.S. District Judge Kari A. Dooley could sentence below the guidelines. The two also face thousands of dollars in potential criminal fines and a probable order to pay the city about $150,000 to reimburse the costs of hiring a personnel consultant and the search for a new chief.

Federal prosecutors said in court Monday that Perez and Dunn stole confidential examination materials and cheated in a variety of other ways to make sure that Perez finished among the top three finalists for chief after a five-month search and screening process in 2018. Under the city charter, Mayor Joseph P. Ganim — a longtime friend of Perez — is authorized to appoint a police chief from the top three finishers.

Ganim was a target of the investigation but was not charged. During the selection process, Ganim expressed a preference for hiring Perez, but federal authorities have disclosed nothing that suggests he spoke directly to the hiring consultant or exerted pressure on the process. While pleading guilty Monday, Dunn admitted that he told the consultant that the mayor wanted Perez to get the job and later lied to federal investigators by denying he had the conversation.

Ganim named Perez police chief in November 2018 and the city later signed him to a five-year contract with a $145,000 annual salary. The city also agreed to pay Perez an additional $300,000 for accrued leave time over his 35-year career.

When Perez was arrested, Ganim issued a statement expressing “disappointment” and “uncertainty,” and described “grappling for some of the answers as to what happened.”

Ganim and Perez, known as AJ, have been close for a quarter century. Perez, a career cop, has compared Ganim to a brother. He was Ganim’s official driver during Ganim’s first stint as Mayor — five terms beginning in the 1990s that ended with Ganim being convicted and imprisoned in 2003 for taking a half-million dollars in bribes and kickbacks.

Perez was called as a prosecution witness at Ganim’s corruption trial and described being present when the mayor collected what was later proven to be a payoff in the form of thousands of dollars of investment grade wine. Perez testified that the mayor asked him to store four cases in his cellar.

"He mentioned to me that he didn’t want his wife to know how much he spent on wine,'' he said at the time “To me, it was reasonable. I wouldn’t want my wife to know.”

After his release from prison, Ganim pulled off something most observers considered politically impossible: He campaigned his way back into city hall and was sworn in again as mayor in 2015. Perez, in the meantime, remained close to Ganim while rising through the department ranks. Perez was a political ally in Ganim’s second chance campaign in 2015, organizing support for an ex-convict mayoral candidate in the police department.

Federal prosecutors have accused Dunn of stealing confidential exam questions and related materials developed by the city’s hiring consultant and slipping the materials to Perez, sometimes using his city email account. Dunn instructed the consultant to weigh scoring criteria in ways that helped Perez. Among other things, the consultant was instructed not to detract from Perez’s score because he lacked a college degree and did not live in Bridgeport — two job requirements.

Perez is accused of instructing two high-ranking police officers to secretly complete job application materials, including a written examination.

The selection process for the chief’s position began in March 2018. By July 2018, one of the two police officers helping Perez had agreed to cooperate with federal agents and was providing them with photographs of stolen application materials and recordings of conversations with Perez.

The false statement charges arose from interviews with FBI agents. Federal prosecutors said Perez lied about help he got during the examination process, including his request to a police officer to sneak into headquarters to get test materials stolen by Dunn. Dunn is accused of falsely denying that he asked an exam panelist make sure that Perez was scored as one of the top three candidates.

©2020 The Hartford Courant (Hartford, Conn.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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