No prison time, 5 years probation for retired Cincinnati police captain convicted of bribery

Updated: Jul. 17, 2020 at 2:18 PM EDT
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CINCINNATI (FOX19) - A retired Cincinnati police captain convicted of bribery in what federal prosecutors have said is a pay-to-retire scheme was sentenced to probation Friday.

U.S. District Judge Michael Barrett ordered Michael Savard to serve five years probation on each charge of bribery and filing a false income tax return. The sentences will run concurrently, or at the same time. He also can no longer have a firearm.

Savard faced 12-18 months in prison.

He has admitted to asking for and accepting a $5,000 bribe from an unnamed sergeant to retire early last year so the sergeant could be promoted, federal court records show.

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Savard “willfully filed false tax returns for the years 2015, 2016 and 2017,” the plea agreement states. He admitted he underreported his total income for 2015 by not reporting money he earned while working off-duty details.

He was arrested June 6, 2019, and retired four days later.

His attorney, Christopher McDowell, has said Savard accepted full responsibility for what occurred.

“I don’t feel that any of these officers were aware that this was unlawful; that this was something that was openly discussed in meetings with senior officials, even in meetings with the chief where people were joking oh so-and-so is on the list so you need to get him a motorcycle, you need to get him a car, you need to make a payment and then you’ll get promoted,” McDowell said.

In court Friday, Savard choked up, apologized to his family and wiped tears from his eyes.

He said the crimes were “out of character for me.”

Savard needs to pay back $58,762 to the IRS by Dec. 1. His lawyer said he will repay it all in time. He has been working at Amazon.

Savard’s daughter and some of former police colleagues wrote letters in support for him to the judge.

One of the letters, from veteran Cincinnati police Lt. Timothy Brown, alleges there is a widely-known pay-to-retire practice among police.

“I am reluctant to add, but feel I must,” he wrote. “If retiring early (or accepting) money to assure the promotion of someone on a promotional list is a felony, I have witnessed promotions of ‘felons’ on virtually every promotion eligible list since joining the police department in 1993. And for a lot more than $5,000.

“This practice,” his letter continues, “has always been not only discussed openly in my 28 years in the Cincinnati Police Department, but encouraged. As this is a Federal Felony, I’m surprised there has never been, to my knowledge, an investigation, an inquiry, or even a single question asked regarding this practice.”

A federal prosecutor, Kenneth Parker, read that part of the lieutenant’s letter out loud in court to the judge and indicated they would be talking with Williams and looking into it.

Here are all the letters provided to the court on Sevard’s behalf:

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Savard quietly left courthouse after the hearing without talking to media.

He spent his final months with the Cincinnati Police Department on desk duty amid a federal investigation.

Police officials never discussed why they stripped Savard of his police powers, badge and gun in January 2019.

Federal officials have said the bribery charges stemmed from information that was uncovered by a separate investigation.

The case emerged after a record number of Savard’s fellow officers also were stripped of their police powers and put desk duty between late 2018 and early 2019, including nine in just two months and some who remain there today, several months later.

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Savard, a CPD officer since April 1994, oversaw the department’s Special Services Section, which includes the K-9 and traffic units, and worked scores of off-duty details, including several at bars and clubs, while he was a lieutenant, police records show.

He was promoted to captain in April 2017 and was transferred to the Special Services Section in 2018, according to his personnel file.

His latest available job performance evaluation, from 2017, rated him “Exceeds Standards” on all sections, a copy of it shows.

Savard also racked up hundreds of hours in recent years working off-duty details at bars and clubs.

Internal investigations, however, determined he violated police procedures for off-duty police details in 2015 and was reprimanded at least once, records show.

One of the reprimands, from June 2016, was for failure of good behavior. An internal investigation concluded he violated procedures in 2015 related to personally dispersing lump sum cash given to him from representatives of Celebrities Nightclub in Roselawn to pay officers working off-duty details there, according to a copy of the reprimand.

Cincinnati police changed procedure last year for outside employment for officers by prohibiting them from taking cash payments.

Note: A previous version of this article reported his sentence was 10 years probation when the sentence is 5 years on each charge, to run concurrently, or at the same time. We regret the error.

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