By Brian Bowling
The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
EAST WASHINGTON, Pa. — A former East Washington police chief who pled guilty to corruption charges will spend 11 years and 3 months in prison because he persuaded another man to commit a drive-by shooting, a federal judge ruled Friday.
Donald Solomon, 57, pleaded guilty in January to providing protection and weapons to undercover federal agents he thought were moving cocaine through his Washington County borough.
Based on his belief that he was protecting two shipments totaling 14 kilograms of cocaine, federal sentencing guidelines recommended a sentence of 11 to 14 years in prison.
Assistant Federal Public Defender Marketa Sims argued that his sentence should be closer to three years because federal agents arbitrarily set the amount of "drugs" in the fictitious transactions.
U.S. District Judge Joy Flowers Conti said she would have agreed with that argument if Solomon also hadn't commissioned a drive-by shooting on the vehicle owned by his ex-girlfriend's new boyfriend.
The hail of bullets could have injured or killed someone and Solomon tried to commission a second shooting, the judge said.
"It's the type of conduct that would warrant the court to increase" the sentence, Conti said.
The man who pulled the trigger, Timothy D. Johnson, 42, of Washington, pleaded guilty in October to 11 firearm charges and is serving a five-year prison sentence.
Solomon, who took $7,800 from the undercover agents to commit the crimes, apologized to the judge, prosecutors and his former colleagues.
"I would also like to apologize to my children," the father of three said. "They are the ones I hurt the most."
He asked the judge to recommend he be allowed to take theology and culinary classes while he's in prison and participate in the prison's ministry program.
Solomon, who remains free on bond until he starts his sentence, declined comment after the hearing.
Sims argued that Solomon deserved leniency for the more than three dozen years he spent working as both a police officer and a paramedic. It took a paid informant and the undercover agents a year to draw him into the string, she said.
"This is a man who, prior to being ensnared in this scheme, had done nothing but help people," Sims said.
U.S. District Attorney David Hickton said afterward that the government had an airtight case and didn't ensnare Solomon.
"We don't identify public corruption targets," he said. "They identify themselves."
In particular, in one of Solomon's most famous statements in the case -- that he said he was the "best cop money could buy," -- was an unsolicited remark he made to get the job protecting the drug transactions, Hickton said.
During the hearing, Hickton said that Solomon committed a string of crimes so that he could sell his office to people he thought were drug dealers.
The judge agreed, saying that while the amount of drugs was picked by the government, it doesn't change the fact that Solomon thought he was shielding cocaine shipments.
"He wanted to make money," Conti said. "And if he could make money from selling his office, at least from the court's review of the record, he was happy to do it."
McClatchy-Tribune News Service
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