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.