HARTLETON — The police chief in a Union County community is still on the job despite facing theft charges.
Donald Zerbe is charged with theft by extortion, accused of giving drivers a way out of speeding tickets if they donated to a playground fund.
Borough officials in Hartleton say their attorney advised them not to speak to reporters one day after state police charged Chief Donald Zerbe with theft by extortion.
Nevertheless, there are people in that community who believe the chief should stay.
A marked Hartleton police cruiser is still outside Chief Donald Zerbe’s home near the borough in the west end of Union County. Zerbe was nowhere to be found a day after troopers charged him with theft by extortion.
Zerbe admitted to Newswatch 16 he and his officers gave drivers a way out of speeding tickets: donate money to the Hartleton playground fund instead. Zerbe felt he was in the right.
“I don’t think he’s done anything wrong. He did what he done to help the borough. He didn’t take no money himself,” said borough resident Donald Wirth.
Wirth has lived in Hartleton for more than 50 years and joins some of his neighbors who believe Chief Zerbe should be able to stay on the job, in spite of the fact he faces several felony and misdemeanor charges.
“I feel he would still do a good job. I’m for Zerbe, always done a good job and I think he still would.”
“I really don’t hope he loses his job for it. I think he did wrong by doing it without supposed to be doing it,” said Sandy Sheetz.
According to state police, for the past several years, Chief Donald Zerbe’s police force has been giving speeders the option of paying the citation, or to make a $150 donation to the Hartleton playground fund.
“I have no way of saying is he guilty or not guilty. If he didn’t pocket it, I feel he should be left alone.”
We spoke to some Hartleton residents off camera who feel Zerbe should face serious consequences. They also believe borough leaders should find a new chief, but others think if the case goes to trial, Zerbe could be acquitted.
“Not guilty, like I said, there’s a lot of other places people putting money in their pockets,” Robert Yost said.
Donald Zerbe is scheduled to be back in court later this month.
In the meantime, he’s still the police chief in Hartleton, but that’s subject to change when borough officials hold an emergency meeting as early as Monday.