FBI arrests Chicopee schools chief Lynn Clark over threats

  • Belchertown resident and Chicopee schools Superintendent Lynn Clark, center, leaves federal court in Springfield on April 6, 2022, after she was arrested on a charge of lying to the FBI after allegedly sending threatening text messages to a candidate for the Chicopee police chief job. STAFF PHOTO/DUSTY CHRISTENSEN

  • Belchertown resident and Chicopee schools Superintendent Lynn Clark, center, leaves federal court in Springfield on April 6, 2022, after she was arrested on a charge of lying to the FBI after allegedly sending threatening text messages to a candidate for the Chicopee police chief job. STAFF PHOTO/DUSTY CHRISTENSEN

Staff Writer
Published: 4/6/2022 2:14:37 PM

BELCHERTOWN — Chicopee’s superintendent of schools has been arrested on a charge of lying to the FBI, which has accused her of sending threatening text messages to a candidate for the city’s police chief job.

On Wednesday, federal prosecutors and the FBI announced the arrest of Lynn Clark at her home in Belchertown. Clark, 51, faces one criminal charge of making false statements about using a “burner app” to send some 99 threatening texts.

Chicopee had been in the process of hiring a new chief in December when law enforcement received a report that a candidate for the job was receiving threats intended to force him to withdraw his application, according to a newly unsealed criminal complaint.

“Specifically, in November 2021, after submitting their application for Chief of Police, the victim received numerous text messages from unknown numbers containing threats to expose information that would cause the victim reputational harm,” said a statement from U.S. Attorney Rachael Rollins and Joseph Bonavolonta, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Boston office. “As a result, the victim withdrew their application, and the City delayed the selection process.”

The alleged victim was unnamed in the criminal complaint against Clark, and is referred to only as “Individual 1.”

Clark is alleged to have sent the messages from fictitious numbers  purchased online. The FBI has alleged that phone and internet records show that Clark purchased those numbers. However, prosecutors allege that she lied to investigators about sending them, instead casting suspicion on other city employees, the candidate’s colleagues and a member of her own family.

After being confronted with records allegedly showing that she had purchased the phone numbers on the burner app using a device accessed from her home IP address, the complaint states, Clark admitted to downloading the app and sending the text messages.

“She felt if Individual 1 became Police Chief, it could negatively impact Clark’s position as Superintendent of Chicopee Schools,” the complaint alleges. “Clark felt Individual 1 had achieved many accomplishments based on Clark’s work; and Clark wanted Individual 1 to get ‘knocked down a peg.’”

Clark appeared in federal court in Springfield on Wednesday. She did not enter a plea to charges because a grand jury has not yet handed up an indictment in the case, and was released on bail. She did not answer reporters’ questions as she left the court.

Chicopee Mayor John Vieau put the search for a police chief on hold in January after Capt. Richard Henry unexpectedly withdrew his name from consideration, according to reporting from The Republican. Capt. Donald Strange also dropped out of the process, leaving in contention for the position Capt. Patrick Major and Deputy Chief Jeffrey Gawron, who has served as acting chief since July.

“Because this delay had a significant effect on an essential governmental function, agents pursued a number of investigative steps and allocated substantial resources to determine who sent the messages,” the criminal complaint against Clark states.

Wedding photo

Some of those messages contained private information that Individual 1 told federal investigators he had previously shared only with Clark. At the time, Individual 1 said he believed Clark had also received threats from anonymous phone numbers.

Clark allegedly showed him a photo that appeared to instruct her to have him “bow out” of the police chief search. Another message she reportedly showed him was an image of him and his spouse taken at their wedding.

The FBI said that Clark came into its Springfield office for two voluntary interviews on Dec. 6 and Jan. 11. She revealed that she had also received threatening messages from unknown numbers and was worried that they would tarnish her reputation, according to the complaint. One of the photos reportedly showed the police chief candidate driving her car near a toll plaza.

The complaint states that based on records from the burner app administrator, cellular service providers and other sources, FBI agents determined that Clark had purchased the phone numbers that had sent the messages.

Eventually, Clark asked for another meeting with the FBI and came to the Springfield office again on Feb. 7, the court documents state. During that interview, the complaint alleges that Clark “attempted to steer the investigation away from the threatening messages and attempted to dissuade agents from pursuing the investigation any further.” She also allegedly said she didn’t know who sent the texts, did not download the app and did not recognize the wedding picture.

“Agents then confronted Clark with the information ... that clearly demonstrated that Clark downloaded the burner app and sent the threatening text messages to Individual 1, Individual 1’s spouse” and to her own personal cellphone, the complaint says.

It was after being confronted with that evidence that Clark confessed to downloading the app and sending the messages, the complaint alleges.

The complaint also alleged that Clark said she used similar apps as superintendent in order to call parents of students when they were unresponsive to phone calls from numbers associated with the city’s public schools. The picture of the victim driving her car was taken at an automated toll system in New Jersey and sent to her by the New Jersey Turnpike Authority, the complaint says.

U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Katherine Robertson ordered that Clark — who appeared in court next to her lawyer, Lauren Olanoff — not contact any victims or witnesses in the case. A hearing in the case was scheduled for April 27, but will ultimately be canceled if a grand jury hands up an indictment against Clark.

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com.

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