HARTLETON — The police chief in Union County who is under investigation for allegedly taking donations for a public park instead of speeding fines may have been making up his own rules for speeding tickets for years.
Newswatch 16 learned new information Wednesday that compares the chief’s practices to questionable actions that date back to 2001.
Hartleton Police Chief Donald Zerbe faces possible charges for letting drivers make donations to a community park instead of facing fines for speeding tickets.
Zerbe said he has the right to do that.
For several years before that, however, a state audit discovered that Zerbe’s department filed speeding citations the wrong way costing the state nearly $40,000.
When people drive through Hartleton they know to keep it under 35 miles-per-hour.
“I always heard don’t speed through Hartleton, speeding’s a big deal,” said resident Katie Reynolds.
That’s because borough police are notorious for catching speeders. Hartleton’s police chief is under investigation for alleged theft by extortion.
According to court papers, Chief Donald Zerbe would give violators an option to donate money to a playground fund in Hartleton instead of having to face fines a the loss of points on their licenses.
Turns out, between 2001 and 2004, Hartleton police were not playing by the rules. A state audit found the department cited drivers under local ordinances.
In 2006, state officials said by dealing with speeders that way in district court in Mifflinburg it meant the state did not receive nearly $40,000 in fines it should have received.
If it weren’t for the traffic citations and the fines that go with them, Hartleton may not be able to keep up a police department, according to Mayor Jim Dorman.
Some said it’s no surprise Chief Zerbe may have been tailoring the way police handle speeding tickets in order to keep the money in Hartleton.
“It always seems like he was, like he was working on commission, why else would you pick up people doing 2 miles an hour over the speed limit,” said Amy Taylor of Woodward.
Hartleton has not paid the state the money it owes for incorrectly issued speeding violations.
A spokesperson for the State Department of Revenue said while the money is still owed, it is being considered not collectable because it’s a small sum in the grand scheme of things.
As far as the investigation into Chief Zerbe allegedly letting speeders off the hook in exchange for donations to a playground fund, so far no charges have been filed.