PITTSBURGH – Donald Solomon, the disgraced former East Washington police chief who was secretly recorded saying he was “the best cop money can buy,” was sentenced to more than 11 years in federal prison for his role in an FBI undercover drug sting.
U.S. District Judge Joy Flowers Conti on Friday sentenced Solomon to 135 months in prison, saying she had to send a “strong message” that any corruption by a police officer cannot be tolerated.
Solomon, 57, pleaded guilty in January to three counts of extortion and acknowledged he offered to help protect drug dealers, who were really undercover FBI agents, exchange what he thought was cocaine on two separate occasions in 2011.
Before his sentencing, his voice cracked and he became emotional when talking about his three children and how his actions have affected them.
“They’re the ones I’ve hurt the most,” Solomon said. “To look into their eyes and see how much I hurt them …”
Solomon also apologized to the court, FBI investigators and prosecutors. After the sentencing, he went out of his way to shake the hands of U.S. Attorney David Hickton and FBI agents who testified against him. Hickton called Solomon’s actions “beyond chilling” because of his abuse of power, but noted his willingness to accept responsibility.
“He seems contrite,” Hickton said. “He’s been very contrite and, as you saw in the courtroom, he apologized to everyone involved.”
The sentencing Friday was a continuation from a May 16 hearing in which Solomon’s public defender, Marketa Sims, raised questions about the compensation offered to the confidential informant used to gather undercover audio and video recordings.
The informant’s handler, FBI Special Agent Lawrence O’Connor, testified the informant was paid $29,500 during a 17-month period from August 2010 to November 2011, including $9,000 during the Solomon investigation. O’Connor said the informant, who was honorably discharged from the military before working periodically with the FBI in 2007, was not forced to cooperate and told investigators he wanted to continue serving his country.
“He’s former military, and ever since he was discharged he wanted to carry out his patriotic duty,” O’Connor said.
The informant later was offered a job with the FBI, which pays him more than $40,000 per year, and he continues to work on undercover surveillance.
Sims dropped her objections about the informant and conceded the undercover evidence he provided was relevant for sentencing. She still argued that the amount of fake cocaine used in the two drug exchanges should not be considered and asked for leniency because of Solomon’s nearly four-decade career as a paramedic and police officer.
“This is a man who, before he was ensnared in this scheme, helped people all of his life,” Sims said.
Hickton countered that Solomon’s position also made his crimes that much more abhorrent.
“Mr. Solomon was in a position of power,” Hickton said. “He was given a badge. He was given a gun. He was given a vehicle.”
Flowers Conti said she was inclined to move toward the lower end of the suggested sentencing guidelines because the amount of fake cocaine used in the stings was not as egregious as the act itself. She also noted the support Solomon has received from family and friends, including a “very touching” letter from Solomon’s daughter, and his attempts to improve himself through therapy.
However, she said Solomon’s behavior on 24 undercover audio and video recordings, in which he appeared to be pushing for more drug deals, his purchase of two police-issued Tasers for the drug dealer and threats against his ex-girlfriend and a borough councilman were disturbing.
“This is a strong message to anyone in law enforcement,” she said. “If you want to help drug dealers, you’re going to do (lengthy) time. There’s no doubt about it.”
Solomon will remain free on bond and must self-report to prison once he’s assigned a location. Despite the publicity the case has garnered and his past as a police officer, he requested to be lodged near the Pittsburgh area so he can remain close to his children.