THE CHICOPEE SCHOOL SUPERINTENDENT was arrested Wednesday for sending threatening messages to a candidate for the Chicopee police chief position then lying about it to FBI investigators.
Lynn Clark, 51, of Belchertown, was charged by US Attorney Rachael Rollins’s office with one count of making false statements.
Clark appeared in US District Court in Springfield Wednesday afternoon. She was released on conditions that she not have contact with certain individuals, that she not drink alcohol to excess, and that she report to Pretrial Services.
According to the complaint, Clark sent 99 threatening text messages to the candidate using an app that disguised her phone number, then tried to deflect suspicion onto others
The complaint does not identify which police chief candidate the messages were sent to, but a statement from Rollins’s office says the candidate ultimately withdrew from consideration and the city delayed their selection process. The current candidates for the job are deputy chief Jeffrey Gawron and Captain Patrick Major. MassLive previously reported that Captain Donald Strange withdrew early on in the process, then Captain Patrick Henry dropped out and the search was paused in January, amid rumors of an FBI investigation.
According to the complaint, Chicopee Mayor John Vieau alerted the FBI on December 3 that he believed a candidate for police chief was receiving threats intended to force him to withdraw from the process, and he worried that hurt the integrity of the selection process.
The candidate told the FBI that he received texts from anonymous numbers in November, threatening to “expose information that would cause reputational harm” if he did not withdraw his application. Some of the texts included personal information that the candidate had previously sent Clark using his personal email, and he believed Clark was the only person he shared that information with. But the candidate also believed Clark was receiving threatening messages.
Clark shared messages with him that included one apparently telling Clark to have the candidate “bow out.” Clark also showed the candidate a text from an anonymous number depicting a photograph of the candidate and his spouse taken at a wedding. The candidate said the photograph was stored in his locked office and did not exist in digital form.
Threatening messages were also sent to the candidate’s spouse.
Clark met with the FBI and told them she had received threatening messages herself, and she worried their public disclosure would tarnish her reputation as school superintendent. One text included a picture of the police candidate driving Clark’s car near a toll plaza; another included the wedding picture. She suggested one or more of the police candidate’s colleagues may have sent the texts.
The police investigation found that all the messages – those sent to the police candidate, his spouse, and Clark – came from the same “burner app,” an application that lets someone disguise their true phone number. Records from the burner app administrator and cellphone companies revealed that each of the threatening messages was sent by phone numbers on the burner app that Clark herself purchased, using a device that accessed Clark’s home IP address. The records made clear that Clark had sent the messages through the burner app.
Clark later contacted the FBI expressing concerns about the investigation and questioning what crime had been committed. She tried to dissuade agents from pursuing the investigation. In an interview, she told investigators she did not download the burner app and did not know who sent the threatening messages, and named other people who she suggested might have sent them.
When confronted with information the FBI had showing that she had downloaded the burner app, Clark confessed that she had sent the messages, according to the complaint. She told the FBI that she worried that if the candidate became police chief, it could negatively affect her position as Chicopee superintendent; she felt the candidate had achieved many accomplishments because of Clark’s work; and she wanted him to “get knocked down a peg.”
Clark said she had used burner apps before to contact parents of students who ignored calls from the school system. Clark said she had found the wedding picture on the internet, and she personally owned the picture taken at the toll plaza.
It is not clear from the complaint what the nature of the prior relationship was between Clark and the police chief candidate.
Vieau said in a statement that the mayor’s office “is aware of the situation and we are working to ensure that School Department operations continue smoothly through this transition as the education of children remains paramount.” “Today’s arrest is disheartening for the City of Chicopee,” Vieau added.
The School Committee plans to meet Wednesday night in executive session to determine its next steps.
A Chicopee police spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Chicopee City Councilor Joel McAuliffe, who is running for state representative, called it “an incredibly sad moment for the city.” “We’re all evaluating and learning the details as they come out,” McAuliffe said. “But our top priority is to maintain the credibility of the police department and the search and to assure the Chicopee public schools continue with no interruption to operations.”
Making a false statement to federal investigators is punishable by up to five years in prison.
This story was updated to reflect the result of Clark’s court appearance.