STAMFORD, Conn. (Tribune News Service) — A former police officer with a little more than a year on the job has been arrested for going on a Hawaiian vacation with his girlfriend while he was receiving full pay from the department while he was purportedly on a deployment with the US Army Reserves, police said.
In a press release from Lt. Sean Cooney, commander of the Stamford police department’s Internal Affairs Division, recently resigned police officer Donald Chen, 30, has been charged with first-degree larceny and defrauding a public community and was released without bond.
“I’m extremely disappointed with what happened,” police Chief Jon Fontneau said Tuesday morning. Fontneau said that the department supports their military veterans in every way it can, including allowing them to go on deployments for up to 30 days a year with pay. “What we found to be was a case of fraud committed not only to the city of Stamford and its taxpayers and the U.S. Government,” he said.
Fontneau said that Chen, a former member of the US Army, resigned from the department before he could be fired. “He would have been fired,” Fontneau said. Chen will not receive a pension or any kind of a pay out. Fontneau said that the department will ask that prosecutors on Chen’s case apply for restitution of more than $2,000 that he was being paid for by the city for his military service.
The release said Chen, who joined the department in April 2014, had requested two weeks off from Dec. 1 to Dec. 15 to report to his army unit for training and was allowed to go with pay for the deployment.
But eight days into his military leave, the army called the department to ask where Chen was, because they were unable to contact him and they requested help in finding him. When initial attempts to contact Chen were unsuccessful, an official missing person investigation was begun.
Police soon developed information that Chen may have been in Hawaii on vacation with his girlfriend. Then, Chen contacted investigators assigned to the case, first by e-mail then by phone, saying that he was in Taiwan with his father, who had a heart attack and was undergoing heart surgery, Fontneau said.
Police investigators circled back to Chen’s family in Queens and found out from his mother that his father was alive, well and working in New York City.
Confronted with that and other information at odds with his Taiwan story, Chen admitted that he was not in Taiwan and his earlier statements were lies and was indeed in Hawaii, Fontneau said.
Chen resigned on December 14, the release said.
“Losing an officer under these circumstances is unfortunate for everyone,” said Sean Boeger, president of the Stamford Police Association. “I recognize Chief Fontneau’s responsibility to maintain good order and discipline throughout the department and respect his stance on moving swiftly to resolve sensitive matters like this one. I have faith that Don will be afforded due process, as is the right of everyone. If any wrongdoing is ultimately substantiated, as police officers, we cannot be tolerant of such actions as a matter of maintaining the public trust.”
On Tuesday morning Chen turned himself over to police after a warrant had been signed charging him with first-degree larceny, defrauding a public community of just over $2,000, the money he was being paid while on his US Army Reserves deployment, the release said. He will be arraigned on the charge at the Stamford courthouse on Jan. 11.
Fontneau said that the matter is still under investigation as police are now trying to determine whether other deployments that Chen went on earlier in the year were ruses for more time off with pay. “Hopefully it did not happen prior to now. He had been deployed earlier in the year on several occasions, over some weekends, and we are trying to confirm whether he was in fact serving during those times,” Fontneau said.
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