HARTLETON — Former Hartleton Police Chief Donald Zerbe was at the Union County Courthouse to appeal his conviction on a theft by extortion charge. Instead, the judge sentenced him to one year probation.
“It was appropriate and I have to accept what the court offered,” Zerbe said.
Zerbe was found guilty in December of theft by extortion. The former Hartleton police chief let drivers out of speeding tickets if they donated to the Hartleton Playground Fund instead. Zerbe maintains he did nothing wrong.
“There was no extortion. That’s the definition the DA’s office gave. It was strictly an option,” Zerbe said.
“Hartleton borough and the playground fund and the people who use that playground are losers in this. They lose a revenue stream for their playground,” Defense Attorney Hank Clarke said.
Zerbe’s attorney Hank Clarke believes drivers are also losing out.
“They’re still going to get pulled over for breaking the law. They’re still going to have to pay money. The problem is, is it’s going to go to the state and not to a playground,” Clarke said.
Judge Michael Hudock disagrees. He said, “You wanted the money to stay local but that doesn’t excuse the fact that it is illegal.”
Prosecutor Jeff Crossland said, “Ignorance is no excuse. It clearly is a crime.”
Donald Zerbe was police chief of Hartleton for more than 30 years. He was suspended last year and retired after his trial in December. He apologized to the people of Hartleton and says he takes full responsibility for his actions.
“It was our only option to help people. We had no other way to help. They asked for help and I gave it,” Zerbe said.
The judge in Union County said he does not believe jail is the appropriate place for Donald Zerbe. Again, the former police chief was sentenced to one year of probation and he must pay just over $5,000 in restitution.