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Judge reduces sentence for former ex-Pennsylvania police chief in FBI drug extortion sting

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PITTSBURGH — A judge on Wednesday trimmed four years off the 11-year, 3-month sentence she previously imposed on a former southwestern Pennsylvania police chief convicted of extorting nearly $8,000 from undercover FBI agents he thought were drug dealers.

A federal appeals court in September ordered the new sentence for former East Washington Borough police Chief Donald Solomon, ruling that U.S. District Judge Joy Flowers Conti wrongly calculated sentencing guidelines before she imposed that term in June 2013.

The judge resentenced Solomon, 58, to seven years and three months in prison, the minimum he faced under recalculated guidelines. Those guidelines called for up to nine years in prison, which Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Cessar unsuccessfully sought.

Solomon pleaded guilty in January 2013 to extorting $7,800 from the agents in exchange for protection during two staged drug deals and a promise to buy them police-issued stun guns.

In one of several conversations the FBI recorded during the sting, Solomon bragged: "I'm the best cop money can buy."

But since his guilty plea, Solomon has appeared contrite, and his lawyer has argued his criminal troubles occurred only after his wife divorced him. Also, Solomon's low-paying job and lack of benefits put him in debt, contributed to his depression and affected his relationship with his two adult sons, public defender Elisa Long argued.

Conti said she was convinced by several character witnesses, including Solomon's pastor, and letters from family and friends that Solomon is a good man who did bad things during a dark period of his life. But the judge couldn't bring herself to sentence Solomon to less prison time than the new guidelines recommended — which is what his public defender sought — because of the seriousness of his crimes.

"To have a chief of police, you know, aiding drug dealers ... (is) just terrible in terms of what kind of message it sends to our community and police," Conti said.

Solomon got a second chance to convince the judge that he learned his lesson because the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found Conti wrongly increased Solomon's punishment under guidelines for drug and extortion offenses, and erred by increasing the sentencing guidelines for abusing a position of trust.

Sentencing guidelines cross-reference a person's criminal history — in this case, Solomon had none — with numerical scores that rate the seriousness of one's crime. Long, the public defender, had argued Solomon's guideline range for the extortion would have been 30 to 37 months before the various factors Conti also originally considered. The 135-month sentence she initially imposed was at the low end of guidelines dictating up to 14 years in prison.

Solomon apologized to authorities, his fellow officers and his family and friends before the judge resentenced him.

"I realize as a police officer, we are held to a higher standard," Solomon said. "But as many people fail to realize, we are also human."

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