Leechburg fires Diebold, raises taxes, starts search for new councilman
Leechburg officials fired former borough police Chief Mike Diebold on Tuesday.
The action came on the same night that officials passed the borough’s 2019 budget with a 3-mill tax increase and council said it is accepting letters of interest to replace a councilman who is resigning effective Jan. 1.
Diebold’s firing was made retroactive to Dec. 11.
That is the day Diebold, 41, pleaded guilty to soliciting sex from an undercover agent posing as a 14-year-old girl, and related charges in Westmoreland County Court.
He pleaded guilty to felony charges of statutory sexual assault, attempted statutory sexual assault, unlawful restraint and criminal use of a communications device. He was sentenced to nine to 23 months in jail, making him eligible for parole on Jan. 27.
State law allows police officers convicted of felony offenses to be fired by employers, Councilman Chuck Pascal told the mayor and council before their vote.
“The guilty plea was the best reason for us to do it,” Mayor Wayne Dobos said after Tuesday’s meeting.
He said Leechburg won’t have to pay Diebold the municipal share of his pension
Diebold was suspended after his Jan. 5 arrest.
Diebold’s attorney had approached borough lawyers about finding a way for him to retire before his trial to protect his pension, including the money contributed by Leechburg. However those talks weren’t resolved.
“The only funds to which he is entitled to is that which he contributed to. Only his contributions,” Dobos said.
Dobos acknowledged that Diebold has plans to move back to Leechburg.
“The law says he can come back. I don’t know how the community will react. I hope, at least, they react in a lawful manner,” he said.
He also commented about Diebold’s Go Fund Me account, was established after Diebold’s arm was severed in a 2017 fireworks accident.
“It would be nice to see the money go to something like Children’s Hospital or some organization like that. I think most people would be happy with that,” Dobos said.
Pascal said Dec. 11 was the date Diebold became ineligible to become a law enforcement officer under Pennsylvania law.
“As a council, we are just happy this whole episode is now over and we can move on and reconstitute our police force at its full complement,” Pascal said.
The department has three full-time and several part-time officers.
Other council members didn’t comment about Diebold, who spent all of his police career with the Leechburg Police Department.
He began as a part-time officer in 1996, at age 19, and later was hired as full time.
In March 2006, he was appointed chief at age 29. He was part of Armstrong County’s drug task force and was a state constable.
Diebold is a graduate of Leechburg Area High School and the police academy at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.
Tax hike for 2019
The 2019 budget adopted on a 6-0 vote Tuesday, with Councilman Christian Vaccaro abstaining, was the same $1,13 million spending plan introduced last November, Council President Tom Foster said.
Each mill is worth about $24,000 in Leechburg.
So the tax hike of 3 mills amounts to about a $75 annual increase in borough taxes for most taxpayers, Vaccaro said.
Council also approved the temporary borrowing, really transferring, of $100,000 from the Leechburg sewer fund to use in the borough’s general fund.
The money will be repaid to the sewer fund when enough tax revenue comes in, Foster said.
Vaccaro didn’t vote on the budget because he is resigning from council effective Jan. 1. He and his wife will be leaving Leechburg so his wife can earn a PhD in sociology.
Foster said council reluctantly will accept the resignation.
He then set into place a quick process to find a replacement to fill Vaccaro’s seat until the next election.
Letters of interest for the seat will be accepted until the January council meeting, Foster said.
At that time, council will appoint a new member.
Interested residents must send a letter of application to the Leechburg Borough office.
Chuck Biedka is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chuck at 724-226-4711, [email protected] or via Twitter @ChuckBiedka.