Allegheny County sheriff to leave post Oct. 31

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Allegheny County Sheriff Pete DeFazio resigned from office this week, notifying Gov. Ed Rendell in a letter which the governor forwarded to County Chief Executive Dan Onorato.

Sheriff DeFazio stated in the letter, dated Oct. 16, that he intends to leave the post Oct. 31. His second-in-command, Chief Deputy William Mullen, will presumably take the helm Nov. 1. The governor has 90 days to appoint a new sheriff. An office spokeswoman stated the governor has not decided whether he plans to appoint a replacement or leave Chief Mullen in the position.

The sheriff's office has been under a cloud since three top aides were forced to leave due to convictions for criminal conduct. Sheriff DeFazio, 57, indicated in September and earlier this month that he was tired of being hounded by the media and questioned by fellow citizens about whether he planned to resign or retire.

The question of whether the sheriff himself is still under investigation has not been answered. The public corruption investigation of his staffers began in 2001, and U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan said recently that it has not concluded.

Months ago, former Lt. Cmdr. Richard A Stewart Jr. was sentenced to one year of probation on a misdemeanor charge of macing. He was initially charged with four felony counts for retaliation and lying to a grand jury about whether he forced employees to contribute to the sheriff's election campaigns.

Former Chief Deputy Sheriff Dennis Skosnik pleaded guilty in March to five counts, including bribery, tampering with a witness, mail and wire fraud, and money laundering. A judge ordered him to spend five years and three months in prison.

Last year, former Captain Frank Schiralli was indicted on two charges of making false statements. He went to trial and a jury convicted him on one count. He was sentenced in December to 26 months in prison.

After 36 years on the job, Sheriff DeFazio could file paperwork to begin collecting a pension. However, officials at the county retirement board said this afternoon they had not yet been notified of his plans to retire.

Mr. Onorato said after a County Council budget meeting last night that he planned to ask the council members to put a question on the May ballot, allowing voters to determine whether to change the sheriff from a row office to an appointed position.

Paula Reed Ward and Mark Belko contributed.



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