HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Two former officials of Connecticut’s largest city pleaded guilty Monday to federal charges stemming from what prosecutors called a corrupt process that led to the police chief’s appointment in 2018.
Former Bridgeport Police Chief Armando “A.J.” Perez and the city’s former acting personnel director, David Dunn, face up to two years in prison under plea deals approved by U.S. District Judge Kari Dooley in Bridgeport. They also agreed to pay more than $149,000 apiece in restitution to the city.
Perez, 64, admitted to receiving confidential information about the police chief’s examination stolen by Dunn, including the questions for an oral examination and the scoring guide for written essays. He also admitted that he had two officers complete his essays, passed the work off as his own and lied to federal authorities in an effort to cover up his actions.
“Plainly put, the defendant … and Mr. Dunn corruptly agreed to perpetrate a scheme to rig the open and competitive examination required by the city’s charter in order to make sure that Mr. Perez was one of the three examination finalists and thereby eligible to be named the permanent police chief,” federal prosecutor Jonathan Francis told the judge.
Perez and Dunn, 73, resigned from their jobs after being arrested last month. Both pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and making false statements to federal investigators. Sentencings were set for Jan. 4 for Perez and Jan. 11 for Dunn.
Perez talked to reporters after his court appearance.
“I accepted responsibility for what I did,” he said. “I apologized to the good people, people that I served with pride and I gave 37 years of my life to them. I am so sorry. I apologize. We’re going to move on and we’re going to make this city the best city in the state of Connecticut.”
After Perez was ranked among the top three candidates, he was appointed police chief by Mayor Joe Ganim. Ganim, who has been close to Perez for years, has denied any wrongdoing in connection with the testing process and Perez’s appointment.
Dunn, however, told one of the panelists scoring the candidates that Ganim wanted Perez to be among the three finalists, prosecutors said.
Ganim has not been charged, and there was no mention of him during Monday’s court hearings. Investigators said Ganim’s chief of staff told Dunn the mayor wanted the police chief test conducted in a professional, fair and timely manner.
Perez and his lawyer, Robert Frost Jr., were present in the courtroom, as were Dunn and his attorney, Frederick Paoletti Jr., for a second hearing that followed Perez’s. Everyone in the courtroom, including the judge and staff, wore masks under coronavirus precautions, and the hearings were available for public viewing via video conference.
Under questioning by Dooley, Perez and Dunn, both wearing suits and ties, admitted they committed crimes. They answered “yes” when the judge asked them if they were entering pleas because they were guilty and whether they understood the plea agreements, the ramifications and their rights.
Dooley said Perez also could face potential deportation because of his guilty pleas to the two felonies. Perez was born in Havana and is a naturalized citizen.
Dunn did not talk to the media Monday. Paoletti said Dunn was a decent, respected man who took the “courageous step of unequivocally accepting responsibility for his mistakes and his conduct.”
According to the criminal complaints, Dunn gave confidential materials, including the questions to the oral portion of the police chief exam and the scoring guide to the written part, to Perez and tailored the scoring criteria for that exam in Perez’s favor.
Perez had two police officers secretly take the written portion of the exam for him, investigators said.
Perez also asked an officer to write answers to the oral examination questions provided by Dunn, the complaints say. The officer, however, was placed on administrative leave before he could complete the answers, investigators said. Perez asked the officer to sneak into the police station to get the questions and answers, but that never happened, the complaints said.
Dunn instructed officials to eliminate scoring penalties if the candidates did not have a bachelor’s degree or did not live in the city, the complaint said. Perez was the only applicant without a bachelor’s degree and did not live in Bridgeport, authorities 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.
Ganim served seven years in prison for corruption related to his first tenure as mayor from 1991 to his resignation in 2003. He was convicted of steering city contracts in exchange for private gifts.
He was released in prison in 2010 and returned to the mayor’s office in 2015 after apologizing and asking residents for a second chance.