By Evamarie Socha
The Daily Item
HARTLETON - Pay the fine or donate to the community playground: that is the choice some people who received traffic citations allege the police chief of Hartleton offered them, and their claims have prompted an investigation by state police.
But present and former borough councilmen say they don’t believe those allegations and stand by Donald “Larry” Zerbe, who has been borough police chief for more than 30 years. Police are looking into allegation that Zerbe told motorists they could pay their traffic tickets or make a $150 donation, check payable to the “Hartleton Playground fund.”
District Judge Jeffrey Mensch confirmed that he signed a search warrant for trooper Shawn Kofluk of the state police criminal investigation division for the police department office in Zerbe’s home on Laurel Road.
Zerbe could not be reached for comment on the allegations, but received strong support from Councilman Truman Motter.
“I don’t believe one word of it,” said Motter. Zerbe “does a fine job for our community, and he doesn’t patrol.”
Motter called the matter “a witch hunt” and said there is no basis for investigating Zerbe, whom he believes will be cleared when a state audit of the borough is complete.
“It’s all false,” Motter said.
Zerbe “knows the law,” he added.
Motter said there is a Hartleton playground fund, but the money comes from fundraisers, grants and the borough’s budget. Motter did not know how much it costs to maintain the playground, which sits behind the community.
“As a borough resident, I support Chief Zerbe,” said former councilman Rod Harris. “I don’t feel he did anything but stand up for the community.”
“Whether it was right or wrong, I can’t be the judge of that,” Harris said. “But as far as I’m concerned, I thought what he was doing was honorable to help the community.”
Borough Council President Gary Loss, Mayor Jim Dorman and solicitor Mark Lemon did not return phone calls for comment Tuesday. Borough Council Vice President Brenda Zerbe said she had no comment.
The Hartleton playground has newer equipment, including a large jungle gym, rock-climbing wall, a playhouse and a climbing feature manufactured by Playworld Systems.
There is also World Trail adult fitness equipment at the park, which sits next to a tennis court.
Sabrina Turner, who has lived in Hartleton about six years, said the playground has “come a long way” since she moved there and said Hartleton is a nice area.
Turner said Zerbe “seems like a decent guy,” and that residents are mixed in opinion about the allegations.
A sign in front of the playground said the park is a Community Conservation Partnership initiative, with funding assistance from the Keystone Recreation Park and Conservation Fund, administered by the Bureau of Recreation and Conservation under the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.