The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

State News

January 5, 2013

Ex-chief pleads guilty to extortion

PITTSBURGH — A former Washington County police chief pleaded guilty Friday to extortion in what a federal prosecutor called “stark and brazen criminal conduct” that included offering paid protection to undercover agents he thought were dealing drugs and taking money to buy them stun guns lawfully used only by police.

Donald Solomon, the former chief of East Washington Borough, extorted money in ex­change for protecting fake drug transactions staged by the FBI, and he made threats against a politician and a former girlfriend, the latter resulting in a drive-by shooting that damaged a car, authorities said.

Solomon, 56, and his attorney declined to comment after the plea, but U.S. Attorney David Hickton called Solo­mon’s actions “stark and brazen criminal conduct” that violated both laws and ethics.

“This is a very important case. It has everything,” Hickton said. “It’s a public corruption case involving a person of high public trust who said, ‘I’m the best cop money can buy.’ ”

According to a grand jury indictment, that’s how Solo­mon referred to himself to an FBI informant posing as a drug dealer.

Solomon faces up to 20 years in prison when he’s sentenced May 3 on the three counts of extortion.

Solomon began meeting with the FBI informant in July 2011 and discussed plans to protect the drug deals, the indictment said.

A month later, Solomon sat inside his police cruiser – in uniform and on duty – and watched a multi-kilogram cocaine sale take place in the parking lot of the First Christian Church in East Washington. He accepted $2,500 for that protection – not realizing the deal was a ruse by authorities – and agreed to protect future drug shipments. All told, Solomon was paid $8,800 for protection and for procuring the stun guns.

Solomon also told an undercover FBI agent that a local councilman “needs to be eliminated” and said he was protecting the drug shipments because he needed the money. He also discussed wanting to make an ex-girlfriend “disappear” and stuffing her in a body bag.

Solomon was hired as chief in October 2010 after serving as a part-time officer for 20 years.

Other details about the case emerged in October when Timothy D. Johnson, 41, of Washington, Pa., pleaded guilty to illegally possessing silencers and machine guns – one of which Johnson acknowledged using to shoot up the car of another man at Solomon’s request in April 2011. Johnson will be sentenced next month.

Johnson’s attorney, Lee Mar­kovitz, has said his client was living with the chief’s ex-wife when Solomon asked John­son to intimidate a man who once dated the chief’s ex-girlfriend. The FBI has characterized the drive-by target as a drug dealer of whom Solomon was jealous.

Johnson “was asked by Don Solomon to actually go into the home and put a gun to somebody’s head” but Johnson chose a less dangerous option of riddling the man’s car with bullets during a drive-by shooting, Markovitz said.

After his arrest in 2011, Solo­mon went back to live with his ex-wife as a condition of his pretrial release, but a federal magistrate allowed him to be confined to another home after she refused to feed him.

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