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The search for Chicopee’s next police chief, typically a routine process for any city or town, came to a halt in December when Mayor John Vieau contacted the FBI with a startling claim.
Vieau believed one candidate for the job was forced to rescind their application because they were the victim of dozens of anonymous threats, sent through text messages, that demanded they do so or else see their reputation damaged, court documents show.
And so, with the police chief search delayed, the FBI began an investigation that culminated with the arrest of the city’s Superintendent of Schools Lynn Clark last Wednesday.
Authorities say Clark, 51, a Chicopee native who built her entire career serving the city’s students, admitted she sent approximately 99 text messages to the victim, but only after she lied to investigators in an attempt to cast suspicion on other city employees and a family member. She is charged with one count of making false statements.
Although an FBI affidavit filed in federal court identifies the victim as “Individual 1,” a source familiar with the probe told The Boston Globe the person was a Chicopee police officer. It remains unclear how Clark and the officer know one another.
Vieau, speaking at a School Committee meeting on Wednesday night, said Clark’s arrest has left officials “shocked.”
“This is disappointing and disheartening, this whole situation, again, for our schools, in our district, and for the City of Chicopee,” he said.
Clark appeared in federal court in Springfield last week and was released on bail.
Here’s what we know about the case so far:
Vieau reached out to the FBI on Dec. 3, and told authorities he will delay selecting a new police chief until the city determined who was behind the threatening messages, officials wrote in the affidavit.
According to the police officer who received them, the messages began in November, when his application for the position was still pending.
Some of the messages, which were sent from several anonymous phone numbers, contained “private material that (the officer) had previously sent to Clark using his personal e-mail account,” Special Agent Timothy Barth wrote in the filing.
The officer said Clark was the only person with whom he shared that information, although he believed Clark also received threatening messages from unknown numbers, Barth wrote.
“Clark forwarded messages that she had received to (the officer), at least one of which read, ‘have (him) bow out,'” Barth wrote. “(The officer) understood this to be an instruction to Clark to pressure (him) to withdraw (his) application for Police Chief.”
Clark also showed the officer one of the texts with a photograph depicting the officer and his spouse — who also received texts — at a wedding, Barth wrote. The officer previously believed the picture did not exist in digital form.
According to Barth, Clark met with investigators in Springfield on Dec. 6 and confirmed her cell phone number.
She told authorities she first received the messages on Nov. 6, that she did not know who sent the texts, and that she was worried the public disclosure of the information in the messages would harm her reputation, Barth wrote.
Clark, who deleted every message from her phone, said she also received a photograph of the officer driving her car near a toll plaza, according to Barth. The FBI later confirmed the image was taken by the New Jersey Turnpike Authority and sent to Clark as part of a toll bill.
Additionally, Clark named several of the officer’s colleagues who she suggested may be responsible for the messages, Barth wrote. The photo of the officer and his spouse, which he kept in his work locker, may have been stolen from his office, she said.
Weeks later, Clark requested another meeting, which happened on Jan. 11, Barth wrote.
“Clark was concerned that the investigation into the threatening text messages was harming her reputation as the Superintendent of Chicopee Schools,” Barth wrote, adding that Clark was also “concerned that the investigation was ‘tearing the city apart.'”
The delay in selecting the city’s next police chief had a “significant effect on essential government function,” Barth wrote.
Because of that, agents “pursued a number of investigative steps and allocated substantial resources” to determine the perpetrator, Barth wrote.
“Many of the investigative steps agents took were based, in part, on the information Clark provided, he wrote.
The probe found that in sum, the officer, his wife, and Clark received approximately 99 threatening text messages sent by “fictitious phone numbers,” according to Barth.
“Each of the fictitious phone numbers were provided by the same mobile application, known colloquially as a ‘burner app,’ that allows users to disguise their true phone numbers to send anonymous text messages and make anonymous phone calls,” he wrote in the affidavit.
Records from the app company, cell service providers, and other sources showed each of the messages were sent by phone numbers purchased on the app by Clark using a device that used Clark’s home IP address, Barth wrote.
Records also show nonthreatening messages were sent via the app to a fourth number, later confirmed to belong to Chicopee Department of Public Schools and assigned to Clark as a work phone, Barth wrote.
Additionally, the records indicated Clark used the app on her cell phone at the same time the messages were sent, he wrote.
On Jan. 17, Clark again reached out to the FBI to inform agents her cell phone number changed.
Days later, on Jan. 23, Clark emailed Barth a list of topics and her concerns she wanted to discuss, Barth wrote.
Clark asked what crime had been committed and wrote, “no matter which person, group of people or individual this [investigation] points to — it was not reported by us and a piece of this was probably self-serving…I just feel that nothing and I repeat, nothing — will help me personally. How is this helping the City?”
After several more emails from Clark, Barth met with her again on Feb. 7.
“At various points during the interview, Clark attempted to steer the investigation away from the threatening messages and attempted to dissuade agents from pursuing the investigation any further,” Barth wrote.
Clark allegedly provided false statements, including that she did not know who sent the messages and that she did not download the burner app, according to Barth.
Clark said it was “in the best interests of all involved … to close the investigation with ‘no finding,'” Barth wrote.
Clark also named a city employee and a family member as possible suspects for the texts, according to Barth, who wrote Clark was aware that providing false information could make the investigation more difficult for agents.
Investigators then confronted Clark with their findings that she was allegedly responsible, and that’s when Clark said she downloaded the burner app and sent the text messages.
“She felt if (the officer) became Police Chief, it could negatively impact (her) position as Superintendent of Chicopee Schools,” Barth wrote. “Clark felt (the officer) achieved many accomplishments based on Clark’s work; and Clark wanted (the officer) to get ‘knocked down a peg.'”
According to court documents, Clark also told investigators she hid the burner app on her phone and deleted and re-downloaded the application. She previously used similar applications as superintendent to contact parents, she said.
Clark discovered the photo of the officer and his spouse at a wedding online and told the officer she did not know who sent the picture to her, she said. Clark also admitted to sending the toll plaza picture, Barth wrote.
Neither Clark, a Belchertown resident, nor her attorney responded to requests for comment from the Globe on Wednesday.
When Clark became superintendent in 2019, her appointment came after decades of climbing the ranks in Chicopee schools, according to The Republican of Springfield.
Her years of experience meant she had “the right stuff” to helm the school system, then-Superintendent Richard W. Rege, Jr. said.
“She can step right in and it will be a seamless transition,” Rege said. “You are placing the district into capable hands.”
Clark got her start in Chicopee classrooms as a substitute teacher, before she was hired to work full-time as an English as a Second Language educator.
Her resume also includes stints teaching kindergarten and second grade, as well as time as principal of Anna Barry School and later of Fairview Middle School, the Republican reported.
She went on to serve as principal of Stefanik School and then assistant superintendent.
Eventually, in February 2020, Clark started working as superintendent — a job that paid her $175,000 last year.
“She was doing a great job,” School Committee member Donald Lamothe told the Globe on Wednesday. “Every school she went to, the MCAS scores went up. So it was a natural fit for her to take the [superintendent] job.”
Lamothe, in an evaluation of Clark for the 2020-2021, even gushed, “All things considered, the job Ms. Clark has done in her first year, has been outstanding.”
On Wednesday, the Chicopee School Committee voted to place Clark on paid administrative leave, effective immediately, and ask Clark for her resignation.
“I feel asking for her resignation is warranted because she admitted to lying,” Grace Schofield, committee member for Ward 5, said. “And this is a role model for our schools … I just have a real hard problem with somebody leading our school district, lying.”
The 8-3 vote followed discussion on whether Clark should be paid while on leave.
“I just feel uncomfortable … paying her,” said David Barsalou, the Ward 2 committee member.
A city attorney, however, told the committee the city typically waits for further developments in criminal cases — such as the issuing of an indictment — before putting employees on unpaid leave.
Several committee members and the assistant superintendent — who will assume Clark’s duties during the leave of absence — emphasized they would continue to focus on students and their needs in light of Clark’s arrest.
Vieau, the mayor, said based on information the city currently has, “there appears to be no connection between the allegations against the superintendent and the operations of our school district.”
“We are prepared for a continuation of leadership as necessary,” he added.
Barasalou described Wednesday a “tough, difficult, and trying day.”
The arrest, he said, “placed a huge, dark cloud over the city.”
“I just hope tonight that we can start the healing process so we can move on because … we have to do what’s best for our kids,” he said.
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