Local government

New Northfield police chief exposed corrupt big-city prosecutor

New Northfield PD Chief Pierre Gomez blew the whistle on a corrupt Philadelphia district attorney

by Mike Donoghue

NORTHFIELD — A Pennsylvania law enforcement officer, who was a whistleblower that helped put the Philadelphia district attorney in federal prison for 5 years for bribery in 2017, has been named the new police chief in Northfield.

Pierre J. Gomez, 53,  will bring nearly 20 years of law enforcement to the community of about 6,100 people.

Gomez has signed a 5-year contract and will have a starting annual salary of $92,500, Northfield Municipal Manager Jeff Schulz said Thursday. 

The Pittsburgh native is due to start his new post on Sept. 18, Schulz said. The job advertisement said the department has a 6-member police force with a $1.1 million budget.

There were about 20 applications for the post and the field got whittled to a few finalists, Schulz said.    Former Capitol Police Chief Matt Romei, who left his statehouse job in May after 6 years, was among the  finalists.  Romei took the post as interim police chief in Norwich two weeks ago.

Gomez is succeeding retiring Northfield Police Chief John Helfant, who directed the town department for five years after a 28-year career with the Vermont State Police.

Gomez, who attended Norfolk State University, had a brief fling in low-level minor league baseball as a middle infielder for the Atlanta Braves and the Miami Miracle in the Florida State League in 1990.

He worked for the Pennsylvania Juvenile Justice system and as a security supervisor for Lower Merion, Penn. School District before joining law enforcement.

Gomez served as a Philadelphia Police officer and eventually was assigned in 2010 to the security detail for District Attorney Rufus Seth Williams.  The two-term Democrat was the city’s first black elected prosecutor, according to the Associated Press.

Gomez transferred in May 2014 to the Dangerous Drug Offenders Unit in the prosecutor’s office.  The FBI and Internal Revenue Service approached him in May 2015 to help them with the Williams bribery, extortion and fraud investigation, which lasted about two years, court papers show. 

 Williams was later indicted on 29 counts that included accepting tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of concealed bribes in exchange for performing official acts, records show.  He also defrauded a nursing home and family friends of money earmarked for his mother’s care, including her pension and Social Security, prosecutors said. Williams also used political action committee funds and official government vehicles for his personal benefit, according to Acting U.S Attorney William Fitzpatrick of New Jersey, who was asked to take over the prosecution.  

Two weeks into his criminal trial in June 2017, Williams pleaded guilty to a single charge of bribery, records show.  Fitzpatrick said in a news release Williams admitted all 29 charges were true.  Federal Judge Paul Diamond sentenced Williams on Oct. 24, 2017 to 5 years in prison, followed by 3 years of supervised release.  The court ordered Williams to pay $58,423 in restitution and to forfeit $33,009.  

Court papers and news accounts indicated WIlliams accepted various gifts and favors, including a lavish Caribbean vacation and a red 1997 Jaguar convertible from the owner of a gay bar who provided bribes in exchange for favors, records show.

Once outed as a whistle blower, Gomez found the going tough at work as he was demonized.  Gomez, who was with the drug unit when first approached by federal agents about cooperating, was later told by the city he was being transferred to the less desirable Criminal Complaints Unit.   Gomez said he was told the drug task was being discontinued for financial reason, but many months later he determined the task force was still operating at full speed and a female detective had been assigned to replace him, court records show.

Gomez, who had a front row seat to the crime and corruption by Williams, received immunity from federal prosecutors for helping with the case, records show.

Gomez later filed a civil lawsuit against the City of Philadelpha and several bosses claiming various forms of retaliation and threats to his safety.  At one point he was given a police vehicle with faulty seatbelts that had been recalled by the manufacturer, but he could never get the city to make the repairs, records show.  He eventually paid for the seatbelt work out of his own pocket.

The lawsuit maintained the State’s Whistleblower Law was violated and Gomez had his First Amendment rights infringed.

Gomez will be taking over a police department that has had its troubles through the years.   The incidents include:

— Four members of the police department, including the chief, were arrested in 1994 on various state charges, including obstruction of justice, simple assault and for firing shots into a local business and posting a dead raccoon on the door. 

— A Northfield Police officer was investigated for two car accidents, including one demolished a taxpayer-owned cruiser in November 2019.  Three months earlier the same officer, who later resigned crashed his personal vehicle.  A rookie officer, who responded to the first crash, reported he smelled alcohol on the breath of the off-duty co-worker, but never asked for a breath test, the accident report said.

— Helfant, the retiring chief, came under fire for personal comments he made about the flying of a Black Lives Matter flag.  Also for comments he made supporting a Randolph Union High School girls volleyball player, who said she was concerned another high school student, who she said was born as a biological male, but was seeking to transition to a female, had been allowed in the girls locker room while the girls volleyball team changed clothes. The incident soon became a national story.

Some local residents were upset with Helfant, who lives in the Randolph school district and his children are enrolled in the school system where he also served as an assistant soccer coach.  The school district later paid $120,000 to settle a lawsuit with the complaining volleyball player and her father, who was suspended as a soccer coach.  Both the daughter and father got their records cleared.   

The Northfield Selectboard issued a response statement earlier this year:

“The Town recognizes that absent other compelling circumstances, the First Amendment allows Town employees to speak as private citizens on matters of public concern. The Town respects its employees’ desire to stay informed on local, state, and national affairs. However, the views and opinions expressed by Town employees in this regard are their own and are not the views and opinions of the Town,” the board said in part.

Helfant later announced he would retire on May 6, citing a bum shoulder and 33 years in the business.  He continued on part-time in recent weeks helping to oversee the police department during the transition.

A version of this story first appeared in the Barre-Montpelier Times Argus.

Categories: Local government

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