The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

News

April 2, 2014

Ex-Hartleton chief ordered to pay back drivers

LEWISBURG — Former Hartleton Police Chief Donald “Larry” Zerbe was ordered Tuesday to pay $3,178 in restitution, including $373 to 12 drivers who made contributions to the Hartleton playground fund instead of paying fines and court costs for speeding violations.

Zerbe, 68, was convicted in December of felony theft by extortion for giving 34 motorists a chance to avoid speeding tickets and fines in exchange for making a donation to the borough’s playground fund. He was acquitted of two other felony counts.

Judge Michael T. Hudock sentenced Zerbe to one year of probation and scheduled a separate hearing to determine how much restitution he would have to pay and to whom it would be paid.

Hudock explained his dilemma in court Tuesday afternoon.

“The court has concerns about the extent of injuries of the so-called victims,” he said, noting that all 34 drivers were cited for speeding.

Of the 34 motorists who contributed to the playground fund rather than defend themselves against a speeding ticket, 22 of them donated less than the amount they would have had to pay in fines and court costs if found guilty.

Twelve drivers contributed varying amounts more than a fine would have cost them, ranging from 50 cents to $111 more each.

Ordering Zerbe to reimburse all 34 drivers would be akin to arresting “a prostitute and giving the johns back their money,” Hudock said.

Instead, he viewed the true victims as the commonwealth agencies that receive a portion of every traffic fine, such as emergency medical services and Mcare, a special fund within the state Treasury established to ensure reasonable compensation for persons injured due to medical negligence.

Defense attorney Hank Clarke, of Pottsville, argued that a third party is not entitled to restitution and asked the judge to consider Zerbe’s limited financial resources now that he’s retired and living on a fixed income.

Assistant District Attorney Jeffrey Crossland insisted all the motorists involved in the case, regardless of how much they contributed to the playground fund, were victims of a crime and deserve restitution.

“They weren’t allowed to participate in the judicial process,” he argued.

 “The money was extorted from them and went to a place it never should have gone.”

Although the money was unlawfully obtained, Hudock determined that the 22 drivers who made financial contributions that were less than the amount they would have paid in fines and court costs were not victims deserving of restitution.

He also ruled the commonwealth and agencies such as EMS and Mcare were victims as defined by the Pennsylvania Crime Victims Compensation Act and would receive most of the $3,178 restitution from Zerbe. The remaining $373 will be paid to the 12 drivers for their excess contributions to the playground fund.

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