The police chief of Connecticut's largest city was arrested Thursday on federal corruption-related charges. Bridgeport Police Chief AJ Perez is accused of rigging a police exam to help ensure he would get picked for the top job, federal prosecutors said.
Perez turned himself in to FBI agents on the federal fraud, conspiracy and false statement counts. Investigators said Perez schemed to obtain a copy of a police exam in advance in order to try to outscore other candidates vying for the top-cop position.
His salary was listed at $149,000, which was boosted to $461,000 thanks to a massive payout he received for unused vacation, sick and other accumulated days off, according to the criminal complaint. That payout was part of the five-year contract Perez signed in December 2018 when he was promoted from acting chief to top cop.
The FBI said he also ordered two of his officers on city time to fill out the written portion of the test for him. One of those police officers wore a wire for the FBI and recorded Perez, according to the criminal complaint.
Perez, 64, appeared via video conference in Bridgeport Federal Court on the criminal counts. If convicted, each of the conspiracy and wire fraud charges carries up to 20 years in prison, while the false statements charges carry up to five years. He was released on $150,000 bond and his passport and guns are to be surrendered.
Armando "AJ" Perez served with the Bridgeport police department for over 30 years. The Cuban-American immigrant came to the United States in 1968 with his family.
Perez was appointed to the job after testing to become one of three finalists out of 19 who were applying for the job back in 2018. Late Thursday night, he resigned his position hours after his arrest, according to Mayor Joe Ganim. Rebeca Garcia was sworn in as the acting Chief of Police, the department said in a Facebook post.
The city's acting personnel director David Dunn is also charged in the alleged scheme. Dunn was accused of helping Perez obtain copies of the test.
New York’s U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss is leading the case as the Connecticut U.S. Attorney John Durham recused himself to avoid any appearance of a conflict. Strauss said the people of Bridgeport deserve a police chief who is "committed to enforcing, not breaking, the law."
Perez is closely aligned with Mayor Ganim, who in the past himself served time in prison for corruption. The mayor called it "a very difficult morning and difficult day," while saying there will be some level of uncertainty and change in some departments, notably public safety.
"Certainly, there is a grappling for some of the answers as to what has happened, disappointment, uncertainty," Ganim said in a video. "But I can tell you this, the members of this administration will remain committed to you, as residents of this city ... commitment to public safety is a top priority. We will keep you advised as we move forward on this, and all things that are important to you and me."
The city OEM commissioner Scott Applyby issued a statement saying, "the administration has been reviewing these key positions to prepare to make any immediate and appropriate changes in personnel."
Connecticut's FBI director David Sundberg called Perez’s actions a "betrayal of public trust." The Bridgeport police chief oversees a budget of $100 million dollars and commands over 400 police officers.
Perez is next scheduled to appear in court on Sept. 24.