Over 30 victims of playground fund money
MIDDLEBURG – Hartleton’s police chief for over 30 years will have a preliminary hearing this month after being charged with theft. Donald Zerbe was charged Thursday after what police say was four years of extortion by the chief.
According to a criminal complaint in October 2012, a female was stopped for speeding by Hartleton police officer Matt Trapane along Route 45 in the borough. Trapane then gave the woman a business card with Zerbe’s name and contact information and told her that there may be a way to dispose of the speeding citation if she agreed to make a $150 donation to the Hartleton playground fund. The female called District Judge Jeffery Mensch’s office following her citation to check if a donation instead of paying the fine was legal. Mensch’s staff informed her that it was not legal.
Following that and another incident on the same day, state police were in contact with Union County District Attorney Pete Johnson. It was the next month that state police set up a recorded call to Zerbe. An officer placed the call to Zerbe using the name of the female who was facing the traffic citation. She asked Zerbe again what to do with the citation and he reportedly told her to send the citation in to the police department with a check for $150 made out to the Hartleton playground fund, with the work donation at the bottom.
Over the next few months, a search warrant was issued for the Hartleton Police Department as well as borough solicitor Mark Lemon’s office. Police found there were 33 people between 2008 and 2012 that had been stopped for speeding and paid money for the playground instead of paying the fine. The total amount was $5,024.
Along with Trapane, Hartleton police officers Stephen Davies and James Galbraith told police they were instructed to give speeding offenders the option of paying or donating to the playground fund. Trapane and Davies admitted to police that they questioned the legality of the option.
Zerbe told police that every check he received for the playground fund was turned over to the borough. Zerbe is facing felony charges of theft by extortion, theft by failure to make required deposition of funds and criminal conspiracy. He faces misdemeanor charges of obstructing administration of law and official oppression. Zerbe was released on his own recognizance and has a preliminary hearing before District Judge Leo Armbruster in Mifflinburg Tuesday May 28 at 2:30p.m. (Sara Bartlett)
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