LEWISBURG — The trial began Monday for a police chief who is charged with giving people pulled over on a traffic violation an option to either pay a fine or contribute to a playground fund. Authorities call that extortion.
Hartleton Police Chief Donald Zerbe walked in to the Union County Courthouse, ready to face charges of theft by extortion and conspiracy. Prosecutors laid out their case against the suspended police chief during the first day of his trial.
Authorities say the longtime police chief offered drivers a way out of paying speeding tickets by donating to the Hartleton Playground Fund instead.
Prosecutors say 33 people were offered this deal over the past five years: instead of the fines going to the state and Union County, drivers gave a donation to the Hartleton Playground Fund. The citation was erased from the driver’s records.
Two drivers testified that they were given this option. James Anderson of State College said, “The better option was to send money to the playground fund. No points on my license! I respected the man of authority (Zerbe).”
Defense attorney Hank Clarke says Chief Zerbe was making a plea bargain with the drivers. Clarke says Zerbe gave them the option of donating to the playground fund as a way to help the people of Hartleton have a nice playground, and so drivers would not have points on their licenses.
“We’re not afraid of the facts. The evidence and facts will be in favor of Chief Zerbe,” Clarke said.
Chief Donald Zerbe’s lawyer says Zerbe plans to testify Tuesday when the defense calls witnesses to the stand. The suspended police chief’s trial is expected to wrap up Tuesday in Union County.