Judge: Informant in Solomon case won’t have to testify

June 12, 2013
Former East Washington police chief Donald Solomon, foreground, enters federal court in Pittsburgh in May. - Mike Jones / Observer-Reporter Order a Print

Dickering about the use of a confidential informant in the case of the former East Washington police chief Donald Solomon should wrap up Friday in federal court before a judge sentences the man who was recorded calling himself “the best cop money can buy.”

U.S. District Judge Joy Flowers Conti ordered there will be a hearing “on the consensual nature of the recordings involving the confidential informant” but that the government can present testimony from the informant’s supervisor rather than from the informant himself, preserving his anonymity.

Because no actual drugs or drug dealers were involved in the Solomon case, the assistant public defender representing the former chief is seeking to have a lesser sentence imposed on her client.

Solomon pleaded guilty Jan. 4 in federal court, Pittsburgh, to three counts of extortion.

During a recess at a hearing in mid-May, prosecutors told Solomon’s lawyer the confidential informant was paid $31,200 over two years for the East Washington case and two others, and the informant is now employed by the FBI.

The judge originally ordered the informant testify about the fake drug deals, but federal prosecutors asked her to reconsider.

“The government argues that if the court needs to determine whether the recordings were consensual, the confidential informant should not be required to testify in person on grounds that effective law enforcement and the protection of the public interest require that the government be permitted … to withhold the identity of informants,” Flowers Conti wrote.

“Hearsay is admissable at a sentencing hearing,” she explained as to why the informant’s supervisor, rather than the informant, may testify in the Solomon case.

Flowers Conti wrote in a 10-page opinion that prosecutors must show that audio and video recordings in the Solomon case were consensual under the federal Wiretap Act.

Solomon is not seeking to withdraw his guilty plea, and the government noted his public defender never filed a motion to have video or audio clips thrown out as evidence until the 11th hour.

“Despite numerous opportunities, the defense waited until the middle of the sentencing hearing to unexpectedly raise a motion-to-suppress issue,” government attorneys argued.

Solomon’s attorney, Assistant Federal Public Defender Marketa Sims, alleges the government set a price for Solomon protecting the fictional cocaine transaction simply so that it would exceed a legal threshold of $5,000, making the act a more serious offense.

“The government has made no secret in this case of its desire to see Mr. Solomon receive a lengthy sentence,” Sims wrote. “Indeed, the United States Attorney publicly vowed to personally seek such a sentence,” citing the Observer-Reporter’s coverage of David J. Hickton’s visit to Washington in April at the invitation of Washington County District Attorney Eugene Vittone, who hosted a program focusing on victim’s rights.

The maximum sentence Solomon could receive is 60 years in prison and a $750,000 fine.

Hickton called the Solomon case “a rather extreme example of offering protection to drug dealers, selling Tasers to drug dealers, and I will be in the courtroom when we argue for a very substantial sentence to send a message that that is not acceptable.”

According to the federal indictment, Solomon met with undercover agents while in uniform and on duty, agreeing to provide distractions for the staged multikilogram cocaine sales that took place in East Washington and South Strabane Township.

He also made threats toward a local politician and woman, according to authorities.

Barbara S. Miller covers politics, Washington County government and a variety of other topics for the Observer-Reporter. She is a graduate of Washington & Jefferson College, majoring in English and history. Follow her on Twitter @reporterbarb.

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