NEW BEDFORD — Longtime Police Union President Hank Turgeon and Vice President James Estrella resigned from their leadership positions during a union meeting late last week. By the year’s end, two other union officers — the chief shop steward and treasurer — will also resign.

Turgeon stepped down on Dec. 9, weeks earlier than originally planned, according to an email obtained by The Light. 

In a June email addressed to the union, Turgeon wrote he made what he believed was “one of the toughest decisions in my life” to resign, but that he would remain on through collective bargaining arbitration and then work until Dec. 31.

The resignations follow continued arbitration with the city for a collective bargaining contract, a recently agreed on COVID-19 vaccine mandate for police officers, and former union treasurer, Joshua Fernandes, pleading guilty in October to wire fraud with union funds.

In a statement sent to The Light on Sunday, Turgeon said he proudly served as president of the New Bedford Police Union for nine years, and that several months ago he announced to members his intentions of stepping down as soon as the union concluded its arbitration case for an expired contract with the city. 

“I recognized the need for new leadership to step up for the betterment of the Union and the need for me to focus on my personal life and health,” he wrote. “We wrapped up the arbitration case 2 weeks ago and I officially resigned at our last Eboard meeting.”

According to the city, arbitration for the expired collective bargaining agreement is not complete. Mike Lawrence, city spokesperson, said the case is still with the state Joint Labor-Management Committee and that a decision is expected in early 2022. 

Turgeon clarified that when he said the case was “wrapped up,” he meant the hearing in advance of the arbitrator’s ruling was complete. 

Asked if he would be retiring, Turgeon said he will continue his family tradition of serving (his father was also a New Bedford police officer and union president) until he is eligible to retire or “God decides else wise.” 

Officer Christopher Cotter, who is a member of the School Committee, is now serving as union president, which Turgeon said follows bylaws and the order of succession amid vacancies. He said the vice president position is vacant until nominations have been submitted and an election held. 

According to another email obtained by The Light, Estrella also emailed his resignation to union members in June, writing “the time has come to turn over the vice presidency of this union to the next generation of Union leaders.”

“This is not a decision I make lightly but one I truly feel is what (sic) best for this union to lead us in the right direction for future generations,” he wrote, noting this wasn’t him “quitting,” but doing what was best for him.

Estrella said that while “some may disagree,” he has done what he felt was best for the union. He wrote that the decision is not based on a single incident, but “more so on the totality of several events.”

Lt. Scott Carola, public information officer for the New Bedford Police Department, said Daniel Sweeney, the chief shop steward, and Jason Orlando, the treasurer, will be resigning at the end of the year.

Carola said Sweeney had issued earlier notice, but that Orlando sent a memo over the weekend — the first time he had heard Orlando was resigning. 

Ex-treasurer pleads guilty to fraud, embezzlement

Former union treasurer Fernandes was charged in 2021 by the federal government for wire fraud and embezzlement of nearly $50,000 in union funds while he served as treasurer. He signed a plea agreement admitting guilt to the offenses. 

NBC 10 and the Standard-Times in January reported a document was emailed to members of the New Bedford Police Union that alleged about $674,000 in undocumented union spending since 2011, based on notes a lieutenant allegedly took while reviewing a financial report.

NBC 10 reported nearly $225,000 was paid out by the police union on meals and entertainment between 2014 and 2019, according to the email to union members. 

The lieutenant wrote that everyone who had access to union funds needed to answer to union expenditures, the Standard-Times reported. The paper also reported in 2020 that the FBI contacted the union seeking financial records going back several years.

Turgeon told The Light that the issue of stolen funds was investigated by the FBI and concluded with a guilty plea by the person responsible. 

Kristen Setera, a spokesperson for the FBI’s Boston division, said the bureau declines comment and as a policy does not confirm or deny the existence of an investigation, or comment on ongoing investigations. 

With regards to union members possibly being unhappy with how funds have been spent, Turgeon wrote “any expenses by myself were for Union business and the body was well aware of those expenses when I was RE-elected last year.”

He said the union has a “very small vocal group that made their displeasures known and have resorted to several tactics including misinformation and defamatory statements,” noting it was another reason he resigned. 

“I will be addressing some of those issues in the near future and am positive those individuals will be held accountable for their actions,” he continued. 

The Light emailed Cotter Monday requesting information on what position he previously held with the union, the process by which he became president and any comment now that he is the leader of the union. 

In response, he said there is no comment at this time, but stated after a follow-up inquiry that “one E-board position held was Financial Treasurer” and that he has been on several committees. Cotter did not respond to a request for clarification on what position he held immediately before becoming president. 

As of Monday, Estrella, Sweeney and Orlando did not respond to an email requesting comment.

Email Anastasia Lennon at alennon@newbedfordlight.org.

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