Westmoreland Sheriff Held declines to testify at his public corruption trial; defense calls no witnesses
Westmoreland County Sheriff Jonathan Held will not testify during his public corruption trial.
Minutes after prosecutors wrapped up their criminal case Thursday afternoon against the two-term Republican sheriff, attorney Ryan Tutera rested the defense’s case without presenting any evidence.
Senior Common Pleas Judge Timothy Creany said closing arguments will begin Friday with jury deliberations to follow as to whether Held, 44, of Hempfield is guilty of conflict of interest and theft for using county personnel and equipment to further his re-election efforts in 2015 and 2016.
After jurors left for the day, Creany met in chambers with attorneys from both sides and dismissed one count of theft against Held, Tutera said.
Prosecutors presented 15 witnesses over three days in an effort to prove that Held directed deputies and other staffers in his office to work on campaign activities while on duty for the county.
Former sheriff’s department Sgt. Jennifer Maruca Shipley testified Thursday she received direct orders from Held and his chief deputy, Patricia Fritz, to track all donations solicited by department staff for a shooting competition conducted in September 2015 and 2016 that served as fundraisers for the sheriff’s re-election campaigns.
She told jurors she met daily with Held in his courthouse office in the weeks leading up to the fundraiser and was assigned tasks such as emailing potential sponsors for the event as she worked as a supervisor in the sheriff’s office.
“We were at work, and he requested me to send information right then,” Shipley testified.
She estimated she performed about 20 hours of work for Held’s campaign while on duty at the courthouse in 2015 and about five hours for the 2016 event.
Prosecutors questioned Shipley about a series of emails sent from her work computer to various sponsors as well as a spreadsheet she said she compiled both at the courthouse and at home that detailed gift donations made by local businesses for Held’s “I Outshot the Sheriff” fundraisers.
“Chief Fritz and Sheriff Held said it was a good idea to keep track of those gifts,” Shipley testified.
She told jurors she once considered Held a friend and initially sought to minimize his role in the political activities in the office when first questioned by investigators. At the sheriff’s request, she said, she erased documents from her courthouse computer.
Their relationship soured after Held and Fritz learned she had spoken with investigators, resulting in her being reprimanded at work and stripped of some supervisor duties, Shipley said. Their friendship continued to deteriorate even as Held was poised to serve as best man at her wedding last year to Cpl. Irvin Shipley, she testified. Irvin Shipley heads the sheriff’s office warrant division and is another office staffer who cooperated with the investigation of Held.
In January, Jennifer Shipley transferred out of the sheriff’s office to a job at Westmoreland County Prison.
Prosecutors have said Held’s political activities during working hours resulted in a financial loss to taxpayers through salaries and benefits paid out to workers he directed to perform campaign work while on the job.
Amanda Bernard, Westmoreland County’s human resources director, testified that Held’s salaries and benefits in 2015 and 2016 were about $53 an hour. She also outlined hourly wages for more than a dozen other office staffers during those two years that ranged between $17 to $25 an hour.
Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Rich at 724-830-6293 or [email protected]