East Washington police chief pleads guilty to extortion

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The police chief of East Washington pleaded guilty today to extortion, and faces sentencing May 3 before U.S. District Judge Joy Flowers Conti.

Asked whether he agreed with a prosecutor's summary indicating that he stood guard over what he believed were drug transactions and provided Tasers to people he thought were criminals, Donald A. Solomon, 56, told Judge Conti, "I do, your honor."

A medic before he joined the police, Mr. Solomon made around $40,000 a year as chief. The bribes he took totaled $8,800.

In return for cash, he twice sat in parking lots in his police vehicle, with police firearms, guarding what he believed were multi-kilogram drug deals. He removed the serial numbers from two Tasers and sold them to the professed dealers, who were actually FBI agents.

"It's a public corruption case involving a person in a position of high public trust who said he was the best cop money could buy," said U.S. Attorney David J. Hickton after the plea hearing.

The maximum penalty for each of three counts of extortion is 20 years in prison, but federal sentences for first-time offenders are usually much shorter than the maximums. Mr. Hickton said he will push for "a stiff sentence."

"I'm still shocked by what I heard today," said East Washington solicitor Dennis Makel. "We're going to take steps at this time to terminate his employment."

The borough had previously said that Mr. Solomon was terminated, but Mr. Makel said he was actually on unpaid suspension.

In tape recorded conversations, Mr. Solomon made comments about his plans to kill an ex-girlfriend and his hopes that someone would kill a borough councilman, FBI agents have said.

The charge against Mr. Solomon appears to be a product a broad investigation that included efforts to probe potential militia activity in Washington County. The chief's guilty plea is the third to stem from it.

In October, Timothy D. Johnson, 41, of East Washington, pleaded guilty to 11 federal firearms charges, and he faces sentencing Feb. 19.

Some of the charges against Mr. Johnson relate to sales of guns to Frank G. Archambault, 64, of West Alexander, who pleaded guilty yesterday to being a felon in possession of firearms. He is to be sentenced May 3.

The cases have also featured unusual relationships. Mr. Johnson had at some point lived with Mr. Solomon's ex-wife. Nonetheless, the chief turned to Mr. Johnson to put a scare into his girlfriend, leading to a drive-by shooting of a parked car, investigators have said.

Until sentencing, Mr. Solomon will be free on bond with a curfew requiring him to be home from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m.

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Rich Lord: rlord@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1542 or Twitter @richelord


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