Verdict In Hartleton Police Chief Trial

LEWISBURG — A jury in Union County has reached a verdict in the trial of a police chief charged with theft by extortion.

A jury found suspended Hartleton Police Chief Donald Zerbe guilty of theft by extortion.

But the chief was found not guilty of other charges including conspiracy.

Prosecutors claimed he used his office to sell favors. They claim he let drivers out of speeding tickets, if they donated to the borough’s playground fund.

Zerbe told the jury it was his idea to offer drivers a way out of paying speeding tickets by donating to the Hartleton playground fund instead.

“The playground fund was beneficial to the violator.  The borough benefited and it kept my officers out of court,” Zerbe said.

Prosecutors say 33 people accepted this deal over the past five years.  Instead of the fines going to the state and Union County, drivers gave donations totaling $5,000 to the Hartleton playground fund.  The citations were erased from the drivers’ records.

Chief Zerbe’s attorney says investigators did not prove that there is a law against what Zerbe did.

Zerbe’s attorney told the jury, “Chief Zerbe is innovative.  He should be applauded for that!”

Prosecutors disagree.  Chief Zerbe is charged with theft by extortion.  According to investigators, the money collected from speeding tickets is supposed to go to the state and municipality not to the Hartleton playground fund.

Assistant District Attorney Jeff Crossland said, “This was Zerbe using his office to sell a favor.  That’s what extortion is.”

The jury found Zerbe guilty of theft by extortion, not guilty to failure to make required disposition of funds, and not guilty of conspiracy.

16 comments

  • Bob

    He plainly engaged in extortion, and got off easy. I can’t believe all of the supportive comments. Cops don’t get to force citizens to contribute to a slush fund.

  • rich756534

    see now if he was in this country illegally he would be slapped on the hand and given an access card,,,,,, this state and country are unbelievable… this man did nothing wrong but help children..

    • anon

      This is theft you idiot. This hiding behind “children” and “protecting the children” bull crap has got to stop. When funds go somewhere else and NOT where they are supposed to go, that is exactly what theft is. What is worse is he abused his power to have the funds go where HE wanted them to go, not where our ELECTED officials vote to have them go.

      • Brian

        If your pulled over for speeding, you are now obligated to pay the state a fine, because you broke the law, You tell the officer your sorry and will be more careful from now on. That officer uses his right as a prosecutor at that time, and decides that, the money you own the state for breaking the law, should now be kept by you, by issuing a warning to you.
        The Officer used his authority to determine that the state shouldn’t get the money for your crime. and you drove away with no points, no change in insurance premiums, etc, and nobody benefited by you breaking the law, and endangering lives, except YOU! and you now have $150.00 in your wallet than you should of handed over to the state for your crime.
        at least with Zerbes creative thinking, you still paid the money to the community, in which you put into danger by your actions. and were held accountable for your actions, but at the same time, It didn’t’ cost you your, Job, license, or a hike in your insurance. And it went to something good for a change,
        How can anyone not respect a man that tried to turn something negative into something positive.

  • Bill

    God forbid if the State doesn’t get a piece of the pie. The Chief was innovative and well intentioned. There should be more “free thinking” allowed in our “free” society. Probably should have been debated, but the result was well intentioned. Hey Prosecutors, how about less plea deals for drug pushers and more “smarts” in dealing with good ideas.

    • Emily

      That’s a great point you make. He served the community for 34 years and I’ve just found out that he made less than $4,000 per year for doing this. These were speeders who reached out to him, begging for an alternative. This is less than 2% of what was written up in fines. I imagine the Trooper prosecuting was allowed 2% in warning tickets. There is currently NO law on the books pertaining to this. The jury did not understand Theft by extortion as “threatening to” but understood it as “threatening or” . A huge difference which will now leaves this man with a felony record.

  • Sheri

    But did not the borough council, mayor, etc. know that it was extortion? Was there testimony by them today? I agree, that he couldn’t have acted alone. But I also agree with the verdict: a man we trust to uphold the law making up his own, or agreeing to the plan of others without it being legal? Heart motives don’t justify extortion.

  • wendy b

    I totally disagree with the verdict!! I believe he would have never done this if he thought it was wrong. I think he is taking the rap for the iniquities of many!! Chief Zerbe obviously did not act alone!!! The Hartleton mayor and borough council obviously agreed with his actions as they accepted the money and were the driving force behind the purchase of the playground equipment. Is anyone nieve enough to actually believe the secretary and those in office were ignorant that this was going on?? Donald Zerbe is being held accountable for the wrong doing of many!! I think his heart was genuinely in the right place. He wanted to help the community. Obviously, if those in power above him did not agree this could have never happened. They would not have accepted the funds thus there would have been no reason to continue to offer this perk!! This is a man that is always looking out for the welfare of others. This is just such a shame to disgrace him in this way. This is just wrong!

    • anon

      (SARCASIM) I don’t believe shooting someone with downs syndrome is a crime because it is a mercy killing. So now I should be allowed to shoot someone in the face because I ‘didn’t know” it was wrong… I should totally get a slap in the face. (SARCASIM)..

      your thinking is flawed.

  • steve

    Whst is the play ground fund yes part of the twp/borough he tried to help all and it came back to bite him. Most of the people issued a ticket were residnts so everyone was a winner until big goverment found out

  • Randall Cizenski

    I have always thought his idea to help fund the municipal playground was in keeping with the spirit of community. In fact I feel more towns should set laws up so that offenders for traffic violations in their municipality can be paid by providing funding for community projects.

  • Randall Cizenski

    “Prosecutors disagree. Chief Zerbe is charged with theft by extortion. According to investigators, the money collected from speeding tickets is supposed to go to the state and municipality not to the Hartleton playground fund.”

    He’s guilty because the state didn’t receive money. To hell with a playground for children in their minds.

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