Leechburg reacts to arrest of Police Chief Mike Diebold on child predator charges
For those closest to Leechburg police Chief Mike Diebold, it’s difficult to understand the child predator allegations that came out against him Friday after an investigation by the state Attorney General’s Office.
Diebold, 40, of Forks Church Road in Gilpin was arrested Friday after attempting to rendezvous with a 14-year-old girl who was actually an undercover agent, according to the attorney general.
The news came as a shock to friends and family who have stood by Diebold during the turbulent six months since he was injured in a fireworks accident and lost part of one arm.
It seemed there was a light at the end of the tunnel after Diebold reached an agreement at the end of December with borough officials on what steps he needed to take to possibly return to work as chief.
Diebold’s mother comments
Diebold’s mom, Karen Diebold, was obviously shaken during a phone interview on Saturday.
“I just want to say that people have to not blame family members like me and Danielle (Diebold’s wife),” she said. “It’s hard enough as it is to go through this.”
Karen Diebold said the community has been great in rallying around the family since the accident, but she said blaming them related to the allegations against Diebold isn’t fair.
“It’s really awful,” she said.
Karen seemed to be somewhat in disbelief of the allegations against her son, saying residents should wait for all of the facts of the case to come out.
“If Mike did it, then he’s going to have to pay the price, but what if he didn’t?” she said, fighting back tears.
Attempts to contact Danielle Diebold by phone and Facebook on Saturday were unsuccessful.
Leechburg had rallied around him
Not only is Diebold’s family left reeling, but so is the Leechburg community that rallied around him over the past six months as he recovered from his severe injuries.
Nearly $17,000 was raised for Diebold and his family through a GoFundMe account since the accident.
The online GoFundMe account said Saturday that “the campaign is completed and no longer active.” It’s unclear when it became inactive, and “completed” was not defined.
The person who started the fund could not be reached for clarification Saturday.
Hundreds of people turned out to other fundraisers to support him.
One was the sale of T-shirts that offered encouragement and support: “We Stand By Ours. #teamdiebold15656.”
Most recently, dozens of residents turned out during Leechburg Council meetings to back him while borough officials discussed an agreement regarding the terms to reinstate Diebold as chief. He had previously expressed hopes to return to work shortly after the first of the year.
Shawn Lerch, former Leechburg mayor and longtime Diebold supporter, was at a loss for words Saturday.
“I’m devastated and shocked,” he said. “I feel for the family.”
Lerch, who worked alongside Diebold when he was mayor and then supported him throughout his recovery, said he had no idea what Diebold allegedly had been doing.
“At this point in time, he’s the least of my concerns,” Lerch said. “I’m worried about the family — the fallout.”
Leechburg resident John Fiorina, who helped save Diebold’s life when he applied a tourniquet to his arm after the fireworks accident, said he is heartbroken for Diebold’s family.
“I feel betrayed, manipulated and mostly more upset that his family has to endure it,” Fiorina said.
Fiorina said this is one more negative thing to put Leechburg in the spotlight.
“I think it’s appalling what he allegedly attempted to do,” he said.
Leechburg resident A.J. Stewart said he feels for Diebold’s family as well as the people who donated money to his recovery.
“I feel absolutely terrible for his wife and children — they should not have to endure the effects of his terrible decision,” Stewart said. “I feel terrible for the folks who supported him and donated their hard-earned money and personal time to his cause of his amputation.”
Still on paid leave
Mayor Wayne Dobos said Saturday that Diebold remains on paid leave until officials can meet with lawyers to determine the next step regarding his employment following his arrest.
Dobos said he didn’t know if Diebold’s paid leave could retroactively be stopped once they consult with lawyers.
“I informed the lawyer (Friday), and I figure he’ll get back to us on Monday,” he said.
As mayor, Dobos is in charge of the police department. He said the remaining officers will perform extra duties while the role of chief is sorted out.
The mayor and council had moved cautiously as Diebold went through the process of returning to work from his serious injury.
Dobos said Friday the AG’s investigation wasn’t anything that Leechburg officials were privy to. As a result, it didn’t have a hand in the delay in Diebold’s reinstatement as police chief.
According to his arrest papers, the investigation started Sept. 15 when Diebold placed an online advertisement that made it clear he was a police officer looking for a sexual relationship with a female partner of “any age, race or status.” He allegedly went by the user name “kutecop4you.”
Undercover agents with the state Attorney General’s Office responded, saying “on multiple occasions” that they were a 14-year-old girl in the eighth grade.
Authorities say Diebold responded anyway, with sexually explicit encouragement and a request to meet the girl.
He was arrested Friday in Lower Burrell when he thought that meeting was taking place.
Police said Diebold’s cellphone when arrested included a message thread with the girl.
According to the investigator, Diebold admitted that he “knew that sexual contact with a 14-year(-old) child was wrong and illegal and that his life was totally over.”
Authorities say Diebold “stated that he has been utilizing the internet to post ads in the personal sections for the last several years.”
Diebold remains in Westmoreland County Prison in lieu of $500,000 straight bond, meaning that he would have to come up with the entire amount in order to be released while awaiting trial. His preliminary hearing is scheduled for Jan. 16 in front of District Judge Cheryl Peck Yakopec in Allegheny Township.
No lawyer was listed for Diebold in online court documents Saturday.
Staff writers Chuck Beidka and Madasyn Czebiniak and contributing writer Joyce Hanz contributed to this report. Emily Balser is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-226-4680 or [email protected] or via Twitter @emilybalser.