Westmoreland Sheriff Held asks judge to dismiss charges
An attorney for embattled Westmoreland County Sheriff Jonathan Held wants a judge to dismiss criminal charges filed against the two-term incumbent, saying there is not enough evidence to prove he forced his staff to perform campaign chores while on duty.
As part of a package of pretrial motions filed by both the prosecution and defense this week, Held’s lawyer, Ryan Tutera, said the prosecution is unable to adequately put a dollar figure on the amount of money the sheriff is accused of stealing when he allegedly ordered staff to work on his re-election effort and used county equipment for those purposes.
Held, 44, of Hempfield, is awaiting trial on three charges of theft and one count of conflict of interest. His trial is slated to begin in December.
Visiting Senior Common Pleas Court Judge Timothy Creany of Cambria County scheduled a pretrial hearing for Sept. 24 on Held’s request as well as other evidentiary issues, including a prosecution demand that the defense turn over a report compiled by a private investigator hired by the sheriff to review the allegations against him.
Held has maintained the criminal case is based on false allegations made by disgruntled staffers in his office. Two witnesses, one former deputy and a current sheriff’s office employee testified during a preliminary hearing in February that Held ordered them to perform campaign chores dating back to 2014 to solicit gift cards and guns for campaign fundraisers. They testified they were in uniform and on duty when they worked on the campaign project. Investigators said those deputies and others, on Held’s behalf, used county equipment such as cars and computers to complete the campaign tasks.
“However, the commonwealth never presented any evidence that the defendant gave directives to his employees to campaign for his re-election during work hours, nor did they present evidence it was the defendant’s conscious object to unlawfully take man hours belonging to Westmoreland County and divert the same to unjustifiably enrich himself,” Tutera wrote.
Held also asked the judge to quash a subpoena issued by prosecutors demanding the sheriff turn over campaign finance activities for 2015 through the current period. According to court documents, the state Attorney General’s Office contends Held’s defense team refused to turn over the sheriff’s campaign finance records, which include journals detailing cash receipts and disbursements and accounting ledgers.
Tutera responded by saying Held is not obligated to cooperate and provide potentially incriminating evidence.
“Any production or statement would infringe on this absolute right,” Tutera said.
He said the records request was improper because details could include information outside of the crimes alleged in the case.
Held was charged after a lengthy investigation. State agents in March confiscated two computers during a raid of Held’s courthouse office under a search warrant seeking campaign materials. Prosecutors said they turned over to the defense all campaign-related information seized from the computers. They want Held to give them any other documents and emails the defense intends to use at trial.
Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Rich at 724-830-6293 or [email protected]