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NBC 10 I-Team: Missing police union money allegedly tops $674K

New Bedford Police Department. (WJAR)
New Bedford Police Department. (WJAR)
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An email that hit the inboxes of New Bedford Police Union members, and obtained by the NBC 10 I-Team, sheds light on accusations of misappropriated money and implies there was theft from the union's coffers.

More than 200 police officers in the city have been told that approximately $674,000 in union expenses had "no supporting documentation," according to the email, authored by a police lieutenant. Many of New Bedford's rank and file have pointed a finger at the union's former treasurer, but the email suggests greater accountability.

"I think all of those who had access to our funds need to answer to these expenditures. Each and every one," wrote the lieutenant after reviewing a financial report.

Restaurants and bars

The website of Theodore's, a Springfield, Massachusetts club, said it's known for booze, blues and barbeque. The New Bedford Police Union spent $785 there in 2016.

$613 was spent at a Walgreens drug store in May of 2016. Approximately $9,177 was charged at various hotels and thousands of dollars were charged at local (and not so local) bars and restaurants.

In all, about $224,812 was paid out by the police union on meals and entertainment between 2014 and 2019, according to the meticulously detailed email sent out to union members.

"We should have itemized receipts for every single dollar and penny that leaves our union accounts," wrote the lieutenant.

How did this happen?

Former New Bedford Police Sgt. Joshua Fernandes was the union's treasurer from as early as 2011 until his arrest in May of 2019. He was charged with tracking his ex-wife with a GPS, taking her minivan, and smashing out the windows. He's also accused of running the license plates of a man his ex had dinner with. Six counts are pending against Fernandes, who was later fired by police.

Fernandes was already well-known in the city after being shot in the face during the 2006 Foxy Lady killings. While the email showed $674,000 undocumented over a six-year period when Fernandes was treasurer, it suggests massive unchecked spending by the union to the tune of more than a $1.4 million, including $98,108 taken out in cash withdrawals.

"I firmly believe this union needs to address what has occurred," said the email. Multiple attempts to reach Fernandes and his attorney were unsuccessful.

Patrolman Hank Turgeon has been president of the New Bedford Police Union for the last eight years. Last January, and first reported by the Standard-Times newspaper, Turgeon said the FBI was investigating the police union's books. Turgeon confirmed to the I-Team that after Fernandes was arrested the union found a number of "questionable charges and withdrawals" and informed the offices of the Bristol County District Attorney and Massachusetts Attorney General.

The police union, Turgeon said, was then contacted by the FBI and turned over an audit report that was completed in February of 2020. Turgeon declined an on-camera interview citing the investigation, but in a statement to the I-Team said, in part, the "Union's Executive Board has taken numerous steps to put safeguards in place to protect the Union from this occurring again."

A spokesperson for the FBI could not confirm nor deny an investigation. Lately, many union treasurers have been charged with state and federal crimes. Last year, officers from Somerville and Methuen, Massachusetts, were convicted after embezzling from their unions. In 2017, two Newport police officers were sentenced to federal prison for stealing from their union.

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