In 2019, Joshua Fernandes, 42, was a New Bedford Police sergeant assigned as a school resource officer to Keith Middle School in Massachusetts when he was fired from the force. New Bedford Police Department photo.
A Massachusetts man who stole tens of thousands of dollars from his police union is going behind bars.
On Monday, June 27, in Boston, US Senior District Court Judge Mark L. Wolf sentenced ex-New Bedford Police officer Joshua Fernandes, 42, to three months in prison and two years of supervised release.
The former treasurer of the New Bedford Police Union also was ordered to pay $47,851 in restitution. Bank records revealed Fernandes had used union funds to settle more than 400 personal credit card charges, including paying for beach vacations, comic books, cell phone bills, online dating dues, and jewelry for his girlfriend.
And to conceal his crimes, Fernandes stole funds from union retirement coffers and transferred them into operating and credit card accounts to cook the books.
He had faced up to 20 years in a federal penitentiary and a $250,000 fine. In an Oct. 1, 2021, plea deal inked with federal prosecutors, Fernandes confessed to one count of wire fraud.
It was a long fall for Fernandes, a 17-year veteran of the force and a 2007 recipient of the George L. Hanna Memorial Award for Bravery, the highest valor award for a police officer in Massachusetts.
He was honored for courage under fire during a Dec. 12, 2006, shootout at the Foxy Lady strip club. Although shot in the face and unable to see out of one eye, Fernandes drove his severely wounded partner to the hospital. Fernandes required more than a dozen surgeries to regain the partial use of his eye, nose, and ears.
Coffee or Die Magazine’s attempts to reach Fernandes were not successful. His cell phone number has been changed and an email message to him bounced back. But his criminal defense attorney, Erin R. Opperman, said in a late Monday email he’s “relieved that this case has come to a conclusion.”
She pointed to dozens of letters written to the judge urging leniency in his sentencing, including the current president of the police union. In a sentencing memorandum filed with the court, Opperman partly blamed mental health struggles stemming from the shooting and a string of other grisly cases for partly pushing Fernandes to steal from his fellow officers.
“He was changed after the shooting and later would learn that the incident left him with post-traumatic stress disorder that would go untreated for many years,” she wrote.
In her filing, Opperman said Fernandes didn’t start off as a treasurer stealing from his union. At first, he merely reimbursed himself for legitimate union expenses he’d paid for with his own credit card, she wrote, and later began converting union funds for personal use and to help support his five children.
He was a sergeant working as a school resource officer at Keith Middle School in 2019 when he was fired from the force.
Over the past three years, Fernandes has toiled as a delivery driver, a laborer in a cement company, and as a security guard at a Boston restaurant. Before his sentencing, he was working at an auto body shop.
Opperman asked the judge to sentence Fernandes to probation. Prosecutors said that punishment didn’t fit his crimes.
In her sentencing memorandum to the judge, Assistant US Attorney Eugenia M. Carris argued that Fernandes violated a special trust he held as both a police officer and a union leader, and that called for time behind bars.
His training and experience in both roles helped shield his thefts from detection, Carris wrote, and Fernandes spent far more of the stolen union money on himself and his girlfriend than he did his children.
The ex-cop’s misconduct, “particularly his pattern of ‘robbing Peter to pay Paul,’ illustrates that a period of incarceration is needed to reflect the seriousness of the offense,” she added.
Carris urged the judge to send Fernandes to prison for at least a year. The judge gave him three months.
“With his sentence, Judge Wolf addressed the seriousness of my client’s crime and his failure in his duty, but also recognized his good character, service, extraordinary sacrifice, and sincere remorse,” Opperman told Coffee or Die. “I believe the sentence was fair, considering all the complex issues at play in this case.”
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Carl Prine is a former senior editor at Coffee or Die Magazine. He has worked at Navy Times, The San Diego Union-Tribune, and Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He served in the Marine Corps and the Pennsylvania Army National Guard. His awards include the Joseph Galloway Award for Distinguished Reporting on the military, a first prize from Investigative Reporters & Editors, and the Combat Infantryman Badge.
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