Extortion Trial Begins for Police Chief

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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.


  • Charly Lucky

    The state is the mafia, but this guy thought he was a gangster. If the town was in agreement as to what he was doing, and they must have been, otherwise where did they think the playground money was coming from. It has to go to city council for a vote, and then signs go up in town, or at the playground site. It has to state how it is being funded. I don’t think he is a bad guy, but how do we know all the shakedowns went to the park fund? And where does it end? Oh you robbed a car? Well a $1,000 donation to the park gets you off? See what I mean? But he shouldn’t lose his job, or do any time for this BS. 15 day suspension is enough.

    • Brian

      All the money went to the playground fund, Everything was documented, and recorded. I would bet that if Zerbe was mandated to reinstate all 33 speeders (who the state is saying that was extorted) that chose to donate to the park, their money back, the vast majority of them would decline it. at least I would. ive talked to a few people that have chose the option to donate to the park, and everyone of them said they would do it again. But if you feel the money is more needed to build a BS $4 million dollar visiting center, at the NY, PA boarder….. guess that’s money well spent….. As far as people complaining about it should of went to the roads, Ive witnessed the state paint new lines, 2 days later, tar and chip half the road, Paint new lines AGAIN, Tar and chip the other half the road, And paint new lines again. As far as the CAT Fund…… does anyone know anyone that benefited from this? everyone I know that was envolved in accident with an uninsured motorist, was pretty much out of luck.
      what he was trying to do, might of not been to the states liking, but I don’t know how anyone could consider him a Convicted Felon.

  • Brian

    How is the state not extorting local police, by forcing them to hand over the money from a speeding ticket? The state is unable to supply consistent police coverage for municipalities, and if a municipality decided police are needed, more than the state can offer, The state doesn’t pay the municipalities officers, wages, equipment, uniforms, pay, training, yearly qualifications,(that the state mandates is necessary), vehicles, etc. but yet the money received from a ticket is to go to state. Its not much different than a mafia controlled business to me.

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