Ex-police chief seeks less than 7 years for extortion, claiming good behavior, newfound faith

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PITTSBURGH — A former southwestern Pennsylvania police chief serving more than 11 years behind bars for extorting nearly $8,000 from undercover FBI agents he thought were drug dealers wants a federal judge to reduce his sentence to less than seven years because he says he's turned his life around and found God.

A federal appeals court in September ordered U.S. District Judge Joy Flowers Conti to resentence 58-year-old Donald Solomon. His re-sentencing, which had been scheduled for Friday, has been moved to Jan. 6.

The former East Washington Borough chief 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 recorded conversation, he bragged: "I'm the best cop money can buy."

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. That can be driven by a variety of factors, such as possessing a weapon or, in Solomon's case, that he was a police chief and the "amount" of cocaine — 28 pounds — he believed the fake dealers were trafficking.

Solomon's public defender, Elisa Long, argued in a sentencing memorandum Tuesday that Solomon's guideline range would have been 30 to 37 months before the various factors Conti considered. Federal prosecutors have yet to file their sentencing memorandum.

Conti sentenced Solomon to 11 years, three months, the minimum under the guidelines she calculated, which carried a maximum of 14 years. The public defender said the corrected guidelines under which Solomon will be sentenced call for a prison term between seven years three months and nine years.

But Long wants even more of a break for her client because, in the words of his pastor, Solomon "has seen the error of his ways and done everything in his power to rehabilitate himself." Attached to the memo are certificates that Solomon has completed spiritual and rehabilitation programs at the federal prison in Oakdale, Louisiana, and letters from his pastor, children, friends, prison officials and chaplains.

She also said that Solomon's criminal troubles occurred only after his wife divorced him. Also, Solomon's low-paying police job and lack of benefits put him in debt and depression and affected his relationship with his two sons, Long contends.

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