PITTSBURGH – Questions about how much compensation a confidential informant received in the FBI’s undercover drug trafficking sting that busted former East Washington police chief Donald Solomon has prompted a delay in his sentencing for extortion.
U.S. District Judge Joy Flowers Conti granted the delay in the sentencing during the Thursday hearing so federal prosecutors could turn over details on the compensation package given to the informant, who provided damaging audio and video recordings that indicate Solomon offered to protect drug trafficking through the borough and threatened an ex-girlfriend and borough councilman.
Solomon’s public defender, Marketa Sims, said the “highly lucrative” compensation package could show the informant was not working voluntarily to help the government gather evidence against the police chief. She said she requested the information in October 2011, right after Solomon’s arrest, but never received it.
Sims said she learned only Thursday afternoon that the compensation included $31,200 in payments for various assignments over two years and a job with the FBI.
“This should have been produced long, long ago to properly prosecute the defendant,” Sims said, adding it might cause her to ask for Solomon’s guilty plea on three counts of extortion to be withdrawn.
Flowers Conti agreed that the compensation information should be shared with the defense within two weeks and that the informant must testify at a hearing June 14. However, the judge added that the compensation did not seem unusual.
“It’s not enough money to live a lavish lifestyle by any means,” Flowers Conti said. “(The informant’s testimony) may or may not have an effect.”
Federal prosecutors also disputed the idea that the compensation was extravagant, and U.S. Attorney David Hickton said the money was paid for multiple investigations. He declined to comment about the delay, but prosecutors said they have ample evidence elsewhere showing Solomon protected drug trafficking by undercover FBI agents posing as cocaine dealers.
Solomon faces 11 to 14 years in federal prison after pleading guilty to three counts of extortion in January, although his lawyer argued the sentence should be lowered because of other circumstances.
FBI Special Agent Travis Cooke testified earlier in the hearing that investigators were first alerted to Solomon in December 2010 while investigating an acquaintance, Timothy Johnson, for possessing illegal firearms silencers. Cooke said Solomon had previously asked Johnson to shoot an unoccupied car.
The investigation began to gain momentum in the summer of 2011 when a video made with a concealed camera showed Solomon sitting in uniform at his desk in the East Washington Police Department talking to the informant about offering his services to protect drug trafficking.
“I’m the best cop money can buy,” Solomon says with a slight smile.
Inside the courtroom, Solomon sat slumped in his chair while all of the 24 audio and video recordings were played, either looking down or staring blankly into a computer monitor directly in front of him.
In the first fictitious drug buy on Aug. 23, 2011, the undercover FBI agent asks Solomon to protect him while exchanging 4 kilograms of fake cocaine at a church parking lot on East Beau Street. An aerial video shows Solomon using his police sport utility vehicle to shield the two people in separate vehicles as they exchange boxes.
Solomon, who was in possession of his department-issued 9 mm pistol, AR-15 rifle and shotgun at the time, told the undercover agent that he had “sent away” other patrol units from the area to give them cover. He was paid $1,000 for his role in that exchange, Cooke testified.
The second exchange occurred Sept. 26, 2011, in the park-and-ride lot next to the Beau Street exit on Interstate 70. Video by FBI agents shows Solomon driving through the parking lot 20 minutes before the exchange, making sure no one else is around. Undercover agents then exchange what Solomon thinks is 10 kilograms of cocaine in broad daylight.
There are also talks about a third drug exchange, although Solomon was arrested before that could be discussed further. Prosecutors also said he had purchased two law enforcement Tasers to give to the faux drug runner, with instructions on how to use them.
In total, Solomon was paid $8,800 for his role in the illegal activity, agents said.
Sims said the government knew Solomon was having personal and financial problems and increased the purported drug quantities and compensation because he was vulnerable.
“It was essentially limitless on how many drugs the government was asking him to guard,” Sims said.
A new sentencing date will not be scheduled until after the confidential informant testifies.