Police Chief Cheated to Get His Job, and Officers Helped, U.S. Says

Bridgeport, Connecticut’s biggest city, has experienced its share of government corruption in the recent past, including a scandal that sent the current mayor to federal prison for seven years before his triumphant return to City Hall.

On Thursday, federal prosecutors added a potential new entry to the city’s dishonor roll, charging that the police chief and another official conspired to rig the hiring process to ensure that the chief got the top police job.

The chief, Armando J. Perez, colluded with Bridgeport’s acting personnel director to obtain confidential test questions in advance, had two officers secretly complete his written test and made sure that the test-scoring criteria was tailored in his favor, according to a criminal complaint.

The chief and the personnel director, David Dunn, “schemed to rig the purportedly impartial and objective search for a permanent police chief to ensure the position was awarded to Perez,” Audrey Strauss, the acting United States attorney in Manhattan, said in a statement announcing the charges against the two men.

“Bridgeport’s citizens and police officers deserve leaders with integrity who are committed to enforcing, not breaking, the law,” Ms. Strauss added.

In a video posted on Twitter several hours after the charges were announced, Mayor Joseph P. Ganim said that Mr. Perez, 64, had resigned and that Assistant Chief Rebeca Garcia would serve as acting chief. The department has 400 officers and a $100 million annual budget, according to the complaint.

“Certainly there is a grappling for some of the answers to what has happened,” said Mr. Ganim, a Democrat, expressing feelings of “disappointment” and “uncertainty” about the accusations against Mr. Dunn and Mr. Perez, a longtime friend.

In a separate statement, six Democratic state lawmakers who represent Bridgeport suggested they believed that the police force needed a thorough housecleaning. They described the allegations as “extremely troubling” and “the latest in a string of incidents that have undermined public confidence in the leadership of our police department.”

The charges announced on Thursday hit especially close to home for Mr. Ganim. His ties to Mr. Perez, a 40-year veteran of the Bridgeport police force, date at least to his first turn as mayor, when Mr. Perez served as his driver.

Mr. Ganim’s initial stint as Bridgeport’s mayor ran from 1991 to 2003, when he resigned after being convicted on multiple corruption counts. After leaving prison, he asked voters to give him a second chance and he was elected mayor again in 2015; he won re-election last year.

One of Mr. Ganim’s early moves upon regaining office was installing Mr. Garcia as acting chief of police. For Mr. Garcia to hold the position permanently, though, city regulations required that he emerge from a wide-ranging search process as one of three finalists.

The complaint said the maneuvers by Mr. Dunn and Mr. Perez to ensure that Mr. Perez landed on the short list included dropping a requirement that candidates for the job have a bachelor’s degree. Mr. Perez was the lone applicant without one, prosecutors said.

In securing the permanent position, Mr. Perez received a five-year contract that, among other things, included a $300,000 payout for accrued leave, the complaint said. The city made the payment last year, The Connecticut Post reported.

Ms. Strauss, the United States attorney, said Mr. Dunn, 72, and Mr. Perez had compounded their fraud when they “repeatedly lied to federal agents in order to conceal their conduct.”

Both men are charged with wire fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud and making false statements to federal investigators. They face up to 20 years in prison on each of the wire fraud counts if convicted. Each was released on a $150,000 bond after initial court appearances on Thursday.

Mr. Perez’s lawyer, Robert M. Frost Jr., did not respond to requests for comment. Mr. Dunn’s lawyer, Frederick D. Paoletti Jr., declined to comment.

The Connecticut Post reported in June that Bridgeport had spent more than $500,000 on outside lawyers to represent Mr. Ganim, Mr. Perez, Mr. Dunn and Daniel Shamas, the mayor’s chief of staff, in a federal criminal investigation involving the city government.

The scope of the inquiry was unclear, according to The Post, but investigators had sought records related to public works contracts and the city’s sale of scrap metal. They were also examining the process through which Mr. Perez got the chief’s job.

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