A former Cincinnati police captain who admitted to accepting a bribe from a lower ranking officer to retire early will not go to prison.
Michael Savard was sentenced to five years probation Friday for bribery and submitting a false tax return.
U.S. District Court Judge Michael Barrett said as convicted felon, Savard can no longer possess a firearm and must give his probation officers access to his financial records.
Through his attorney, Savard said he did not intend to appeal the sentence, which was part of a plea agreement. He pleaded guilty to the charges in Sept. 2019.
Savard, 53, was arrested last June after he “tried to shake down” a lower ranking officer for cash, prosecutors said.
Savard told an unnamed police sergeant he would retire early in exchange for $5,000, court documents state.
By retiring early, the sergeant would have been guaranteed a promotion to fill the empty role.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Ohio said the sergeant cooperated with the investigation and completed the payment under their guidance.
Bribery alone carries a penalty of up to 10 years in prison.
Assistant United States Attorney Ken Parker and Savard’s lawyer, Christopher McDowell, both cited a letter from Cincinnati police Lt. Tim Brown that was sent to court stating that pay-to-promote practices were “common” in the department.
In the letter, Brown said if paying someone to retire early is a felony, then every promotion class in the past 20 years included felons.
McDowell said that the practice was so openly discussed that his client believed it was legal as long as he paid taxes on it.
Parker said he believes Savard knew better, but also said he is “worried about the culture” at the department.
Parker said prosecutors will be looking into the accusations contained in the letter.
”Is Mr. Savard a victim of a culture or a perpetrator of a culture?” Parker asked in court. “Being a defendant here today shows he was a perpetrator… You’re in a profession that needs to be beyond reproach.”
Police Chief Eliot Isaac and three other leaders within the department attended the hearing today at Parker’s invitation.
Parker told the judge he wanted to discuss this potential culture problem in court Friday because the “right ears” were in the room to hear the message.
Savard also spoke and said he took full responsibility for his actions. He wore a black suit and fidgeted with a rubber band during the hearing, often looking toward his family, some of whom sat in the jury box.
He apologized to the public, to the Cincinnati Police Department and to his family.
”Putting them through this has been horrible and I’m sorry,” he said as he choked back tears.
McDowell said his client is a Marine veteran and a police officer who “lived a life of service.” He said his desire to help others is what, in part, got him into the trouble he is in now.
He said he intended, not only, to retire early to help the sergeant, but also continue helping him until he was promoted to captain.
McDowell said Savard is now working at Amazon and intends to pay off his tax obligation and penalties, a total of roughly $58,000 by the end of November.
After the hearing, Chief Isaac told The Enquirer that he doesn’t agree with the perspective that there is a culture of pay-to-promote in his department.
”Our deferred retirement plan makes that option lucrative,” Isaac said, but added if there are instances of it happening, “we will investigate and prosecute those as well.”
Savard worked for the Cincinnati Police Department for 25 years and was making $113,000 a year when he retired last year, city records state.
Cincinnati police officials and federal prosecutors said this case came to light during the course of another investigation regarding improper or unreported payments from nightclubs to officers working off-duty details. Few details of that investigation have come to light.
Savard’s tax charges stem from unclaimed cash payments he accepted working off-duty details.
In February, another officer, Quianna Campbell, was also charged with filing false tax returns related to money she received from off-duty details.
According to court documents, Campbell also tipped off a nightclub owner to the presence of an undercover officer in the club.
In that case, prosecutors argue that these clubs were being protected and tipped off to undercover investigations by multiple members of the Cincinnati police force.
Campbell’s case is still pending. Savard has never been accused of revealing undercover operations.