The former police chief of Connecticut's largest city was sentenced Monday to one year and one day in prison for rigging the hiring process that led to his appointment in 2018.
A federal judge in Bridgeport handed down the punishment to Armando “A.J.” Perez, who rose through the ranks of Bridgeport police to lead the department as its first Hispanic chief over a nearly four-decade career there. He and the city's former acting personnel director, David Dunn, resigned in September and pleaded guilty the following month to defrauding the city and making false statements to FBI agents in connection with the scheme.
Perez, dressed in a suit, tie and a mask in court due to coronavirus precautions, apologized to the city, his family and federal investigators for the crimes during the sentencing hearing before U.S. District Judge Kari Dooley.
“I accept responsibility. I am so sorry,” he said. “I spent all my life on the right side of the table and I betrayed myself. I should have said no. ... I did this to myself, your honor. I did this to myself. I betrayed myself and then I panicked.”
Perez, who had asked for a sentence of home confinement and probation, also was ordered to perform 100 hours of community service after the prison sentence, which he will begin serving on May 24. In addition, Perez and Dunn will be paying a total of nearly $300,000 in restitution to the city.
Prosecutors said Perez, 65, received 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. Perez, who was the acting chief at the time, 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.
Perez ended up being ranked among the top three candidates for the police chief’s job and was appointed by Mayor Joe Ganim, who has been close to Perez for years. Ganim, who served seven years in prison for corruption committed during his first stint as mayor from 1991 to 2003, has denied wrongdoing in Perez’s appointment and has not been charged.
Dunn is scheduled to be sentenced Tuesday.
Dooley noted the many letters she received supporting Perez and praising his good character. But she said the crime warranted prison time because it was important to send a message that such a betrayal of the public trust carries serious consequences.
“You were the acting chief of police when you entered into a months-long conspiracy to rig the chief selection process,” the judge said, “and thereby defraud the citizens of Bridgeport and to cheat the other applicants who sought the position. You were the face of the Bridgeport police department and yet you chose your own selfish career goals, or ego, I don’t know, over the values and mission of the department.”
In court documents filed before the sentencing, Perez asked the judge to not send him to prison and sentence him instead to home confinement and probation. His lawyer, Robert Frost Jr. said Perez has taken full responsibility and already is facing severe consequences for his actions, including public shame and scorn and financial hardship because he lost his job and nearly depleted his life savings to come up with the restitution to the city.
Perez also said he is susceptible to serious complications from the coronavirus because of health problems including hypertension. Although he expects to be fully vaccinated soon, he said he would be more likely to contract the virus or one of its variants if he went to prison.
Federal prosecutors asked for a “meaningful” term of imprisonment.
“When the police are the criminals, when the police are the ones who are committing the crime, the deterrent value of your honor’s sentence carries extra weight,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Francis. “The community of Bridgeport is entitled to see that just punishment is delivered, even for those who are favored by the mayor and the mayor’s office.”
The state attorney general’s office also has gone to court seeking to revoke Perez and Dunn’s city pensions under state corruption laws.
Dunn’s attorney, Frederick Paoletti, said Dunn helped Perez because he believed Perez was the most qualified candidate for the chief’s job, but faced some difficulties in the hiring process.
“David Dunn honestly thought that Perez would be at a marked disadvantage ... since English was Perez’s second language and because he lacked a college degree,” Paoletti wrote in a sentencing recommendation for Dunn.
Dunn also rationalized that helping Perez become chief would please Ganim’s administration, Paoletti wrote.
This story has been corrected to show that Armando Perez and David Dunn were together ordered to pay $300,000 in restitution. Perez was not ordered to pay the full amount alone.