Sources: FBI looking at Bridgeport police chief search
BRIDGEPORT — The FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office are scrutinizing the process that led to Armando Perez becoming the city’s permanent police chief with a five-year contract, several sources have told Hearst Connecticut Media.
One source said some ex-candidates for the job were interviewed in March by federal law enforcement authorities about possible “improprieties” that occurred during 2018’s months-long national search for Bridgeport’s top cop.
“They’ve (federal authorities) at least pulled in the finalists,” the source said.
Perez could not immediately be reached for comment Monday.
Rowena White, Mayor Joe Ganim’s director of communications, said “the city does not respond to rumors.”
Randi Frank, the professional, Kentucky-based consultant hired to work with Bridgeport’s Office of Civil Service, in an interview Monday stood by the search.
“It was a professional process. It’s the only way I do my work,” Frank said.
Perez’s allies have privately complained that the FBI is conducting a “witchhunt” prompted by people who hold grudges against the chief and that nothing will, ultimately, come of it.
A list of 17 applicants was whittled down to seven who were interviewed by a panel of out-of-town law enforcement and human resources professionals. A written test and essay were also required.
In October the search panel forwarded three finalists — Perez, who had been acting chief since March, 2016, Bridgeport Police Captain Roderick Porter and New Haven Assistant Chief Luiz Casanova — to Mayor Joe Ganim.
And Ganim in early November chose Perez, a longtime friend and political ally.
While the reason for the FBI’s interest in the police chief search is not known, that agency over the winter launched an ongoing criminal probe involving Bridgeport’s Department of Public Facilities. That probe is focused on illicit scrap metal sales and on no-bid construction and equipment contracts.
Perez is a longtime friend and political ally of Ganim’s, dating back to the latter’s first administration in the 1990s when Perez served as the mayor’s driver.
“I know him and love him,” Perez said in November before his ceremonial swearing in. “He’s my brother.”
Ganim was convicted of corruption in 2003. And, though never charged with a crime, Perez stored expensive wine at his home that Ganim received as part of the mayor’s pay-to-play schemes.
When Ganim four years ago sucessfully ran for his former job, Perez, then a police captain, was often at his side along the campaign trail, supporting Ganim’s bid for a second chance.
Upon assuming office in December 2015, Ganim returned the favor. He forced out then-Police Chief Joseph Gaudett and promoted Perez to acting chief.
Perez’ career path
Two years later the administration launched the charter-required search to hire a permanent head of the police department.
Though Perez was one of 17 applicants, there was a sense of inevitability about his getting the contract from Ganim.
For example, a college degree — which Perez lacked — was preferred but not required if candidates had 10 years of policing experience, five of those in a command rank.
Perez joined Bridgeport’s Finest in 1983 after first considering a career in banking and is well known and well-liked in the city.
His critics have argued he is too politically connected to be chief and to make the policing reforms necessary to bring the police department into the 21st Century.
Perez became embroiled in a 2017 election scandal when, at the request of Democratic Town Chairman Mario Testa, the chief dispatched a police officer to collect absentee or mail-in ballots for Testa’s candidate in a hotly contested City Council election.
The Ganim administration sought to address concerns that the search was not objective enough. Frank, who lives in Kentucky, flew to Bridgeport a few times to hold meetings with community groups and the public about what they sought in a chief.
And City Hall convened what was considered a more objective search panel of out-of-town professionals with law enforcement, human resource and town management backgrounds, rather than appoint a group from Bridgeport.
They recommended Perez, Porter and Casanova to Ganim. Perez has said he was ranked second and Casanova first.
Perez and Ganim have always insisted that the former earned his five-year contract.
“I worked very, very, very hard to get to this point in my life, in my career. I’m hoping to continue. My job is not done,” Perez said after being named a finalist.
At last November’s swearing-in of Perez, Ganim told his friend and the audience, “This individual, this man as a police officer, came through a very difficult gauntlet to be selected. I may have wanted you to be chief, but I couldn’t get you there. You had to step up.”
While the FBI is looking at the chief search, another federal agency — the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission — recently dismissed a separate complaint filed by one of the semi-finalists from outside Connecticut.
This individual, 34 and black, alleged that he was “equally or more qualified” than Perez and lost the position because of “a pattern and practice” of discrimination within the Bridgeport Police Department. Though Perez is Cuban, the complaint to the EEOC described the chief as “white.”
Staff Writers Tara O’Neill and Bill Cummings contributed to this report