richard_perez_2_web.jpgWILTON MANORS — The chief of the Wilton Manors Police Department will remain actively on the job, even though city officials have confirmed that he is under criminal investigation for allegations of perjury.

“Yes, I have been made aware there is a criminal investigation, therefore I’m not in a position to comment,” said City Manager Joseph Gallegos, who acknowledged that he first learned of the probe from the South Florida Times.

City policy states that a police department employee who is under criminal investigation will be placed on administrative leave with pay pending the outcome of the investigation.

joseph_gallegos.jpg“The department does have a policy as far as internal affairs investigations,” Gallegos said, “But that is for personnel.  The chief runs the department, so it doesn’t necessarily apply.” 

Chief Richard E. Perez, 58, who leads a 46-member department, is under criminal investigation by the Broward State Attorney’s Office. The probe centers on allegations of perjury related to testimony that Perez provided in a 2007 civil trial. The alleged crime is a felony.

Perez is a former, 22-year veteran of the Fort Lauderdale Police Department, and was appointed as chief of the Wilton Manors’ department in 2006, becoming the first Hispanic to lead the department.

Gov. Charlie Crist appointed Perez to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s Criminal Justice Standards & Training Commission (CJSTC) in 2008. The agency sets standards, and provides certifications and training for law-enforcement agencies statewide.

A governor’s office spokeswoman said the office is looking into the allegations, but would not say what, if any, impact the investigation will have on Perez’s continued service there.

Perez has not responded to questions about the investigation, but sources who requested anonymity have confirmed that Perez is the target of the probe.

“He is aware he is under investigation, but he is not concerned about it,” said a source close to the investigation who did not wish to be named because the investigation is confidential.

Sources say Perez received a communication from prosecutors, informing him that a complaint has been filed, and that he is the target of an investigation. The South Florida Times has requested copies of the communication.

“The City is not aware of the existence of such a communication,” Gallegos said in an email. “By copy of this email to Chief Perez, however, I will make him aware of the public records request you have submitted below.”

The investigation centers on allegations of perjury related to Perez’s testimony in the 2007 civil trial of Philip “Phil” Cameron against Cameron’s former employer, the Fraternal Order of Police union.

Also named in the lawsuit were three union officials: Steve Klapka, James N. Mann and Martin Garcia. Cameron filed the lawsuit, alleging he was fired unjustly after being accused of several offenses, including theft and fraud.

As a result of his termination, Cameron had difficulty finding other employment. A former Fort Lauderdale police officer, Cameron inquired about openings in the Wilton Manors Police Department.

Among other things, during the trial Perez testified that he could not hire Cameron because he didn't have any openings in the department.

“Me, personally, I would hire him in a heartbeat, but I don’t have any openings, but I couldn’t do it on my own,” Perez testified when asked if he was in a position to offer Cameron employment.

An internal memorandum dated January 23, 2009, titled “2008 State of the Police Department,” written by Perez and sent to Gallegos, seems to contradict that testimony.

“I am pleased to report that thanks to our tireless efforts with Human Resources Department, the Police Department has filled all vacancies and for the first time in over twenty (20) years has attained 100% staffing with no vacancies,” Perez wrote in the memo.

“Of the 42 employees of the Wilton Manors Police Department, twenty (20) have been hired by me in the last three (3) years,” Perez also stated in the memo.
Perez also testified that no one had been hired in his department who had been fired from another agency.

“Well, knowing that he’s got a termination hanging over him, it would have to be cleared by my City Manager, which is my boss,” Perez testified in the 2007 trial. “And in eighteen months I’ve been there, nobody that has applied that’s been terminated somewhere else has been given a job.”

Personnel records, however, allegedly show that a number of officers who had been terminated by other departments were hired by the Wilton Manors Police Department.

Among them was Bonnie M. (Deitrick) Owens, who was fired by Pembroke Pines police after failing to pass at the police academy. Another was Scott Jordan, a former Broward Sheriff’s Office detective who was at the center of the Powertrac scandal, in which investigators allegedly cleared cases by pinning them on innocent people.

Cameron and Perez previously worked together as officers in the Fort Lauderdale Police Department, and the two shared a 24-year friendship. The criminal complaint also alleges that Perez’s testimony was designed to help Cameron, who went on to win a $333,688.64 judgment from the union and two of the three officials.

Prosecutors with the Broward State Attorney’s Office would not comment on the investigation, but the South Florida Times has confirmed that Stacy B. Schulman, an assistant state attorney in the Special Investigation Unit, has been combing through records at city hall. She has also subpoenaed other city records, including the personnel files of at least three police officers. All of those officers were fired by different agencies, but were later hired by Perez.

The complaint against Perez was filed by the Police Benevolent Association (PBA) union, which represents police officers in Wilton Manors, among others. Union officials are neither confirming nor denying that they filed the complaint.

“It would be illegal for me to say what, or if, we filed anything,” said Jeff Marano, senior vice president of the Broward County local of the Police Benevolent Association.

“What I can say is that we were preparing for a discipline case involving a demotion in Wilton Manors,” Marano said. “During our research, we discovered there was a similar case, and there was all this documentation, but I can’t say what we did with it.”

Perez is also the subject of an internal investigation into allegations he misused leave time.

“I’m not finished with that yet,” Gallegos said. “On first review, the chief kept very good logs. He doesn’t punch a time clock and spends a lot of time here, and hasn’t taken a vacation in years.”

Pictures Above: Wilton Manors Police Chief Richard E. Perez, above; City Manager Joseph Gallegos, below.