Apollo police chief to face trial on stolen firearms charges
The state's case against suspended Apollo police Chief Paul Breznican got a bit slimmer after a preliminary hearing Thursday, but not by as much as his defense attorney wanted.
Breznican, 52, was held for trial on charges of theft and receiving stolen property for allegedly selling weapons belonging to the borough. He also was held on a bribery charge related to his allegedly buying two guns he had confiscated from a resident.
The state Attorney General's office is prosecuting the case and called 10 witnesses during more than two hours of testimony before Ford City District Judge Gary DeComo.
DeComo heard the case after Leechburg District Judge James Andring recused himself.
Breznican is accused of selling two rifles, a tear gas gun and a tear gas baton prosecutors say belonged to Apollo. He also is accused of wrongly keeping and later selling a rifle and a shotgun that he had taken from a resident.
Deputy Attorney General Kristine Ricketts agreed to withdraw charges accusing Breznican of selling .45-caliber ammunition and K9-related equipment, including a bite suit and a remote door opener belonging to the borough.
Following testimony, Ricketts said there was insufficient evidence to prove that the ammunition Breznican sold had been the borough's property.
James Minick, who owned the Chambers Hotel, testified he bought a rifle and 1,000 rounds of ammunition from Breznican. State police recovered the rifle and 23 boxes of the ammunition, state police Trooper Joseph Zandarski testified.
The serial number on the rifle matched the serial number on one the borough bought with federal grant money, Zandarski testified.
Apollo bought three rifles with federal money and they were not found during an inventory, Zandarski testified.
Former manager Lori Weig-Tamasy testified that a rifle and ammunition could not be found when she did an inventory in February. She could not recall how many the borough purchased. She testified she was not aware of Breznican having permission to dispose of police property.
Breznican's defense attorney, Duke George of New Kensington, drilled into Weig-Tamasy's lack of knowledge of borough business despite her position. When he touched upon her disputes with Breznican, DeComo stopped him, saying it had been all through the newspaper and he didn't need to hear it.
Minick testified Breznican claimed to own the rifle. He said he paid Breznican $15 per box for the ammunition and between $650 or $700 for the rifle, which he thought was fair.
“That's what he wanted and I didn't care about the price,” Minick testified. “He was a friend of mine. I figured he would give me a fair price. Some things you don't question.”
George did not contest charges involving that rifle. He said he would have a “valid defense” regarding it at trial.
Charges relating to the K9 equipment, consisting of a dog bite suit and a remote door opener, were withdrawn after George produced a 2006 agreement between Breznican and the borough allowing him to keep it.
George also wanted charges related to the other rifle, the tear gas gun and baton, and the two weapons taken from the resident withdrawn.
George questioned if there was evidence that the other rifle and tear gas items had belonged to the borough.
Zandarski testified there was “circumstantial evidence” the rifle was the borough's property. Former Apollo police Chief Robin Davis identified the tear gas gun and baton from photos.
Davis, now an Armstrong County detective, testified that the rifle and a tear gas gun and baton were in the department's possession when she retired at the end of 2005.
Robert Shearer, a former Bell Township police chief and firearm shop owner, testified he bought a rifle and a tear gas gun and baton from Breznican. He testified he accepted Breznican's explanation that Apollo Council had told him to sell the items, and Breznican asked him for a “bid.”
But two former mayors, Eric Andring and Rich Dixon, testified that Breznican never had permission to sell borough police property and never handed over any money from such sales.
Shearer testified Breznican accepted his $250 offer for the three items and asked to be paid in cash. Shearer testified he wrote a check instead.
Shearer said he sold the rifle and tear gas gun; he turned the baton over to state police.
George said he wanted all charges related to the two guns Breznican allegedly took from a resident, including the count of bribery, dismissed after the man involved, Mark Robinson, testified he willingly agreed to sell the guns to Breznican for $100.
But DeComo would not remove the bribery charge against Breznican. “He's held to a higher standard than me or you,” the judge said.
Robinson testified he was going through a “bad time” in April 2006 when his family called police to check on him and Breznican, whom he knew, came to his home. Two guns that had belonged to his father, a rifle and a shotgun, were in his bedroom with him.
Under cross-examination, Robinson testified he had no ammunition for the guns. “I'm not a gun person,” he said.
Robinson testified Breznican took the weapons “for my own benefit,” and that he did not object. He testified Breznican told him he could get them back later.
But when Robinson ran into Breznican at the Apollo Plaza a week later and asked if he could get them back, Robinson testified Breznican told him it would involve a lot of “red tape and paperwork,” and that it would be easier if he bought them. Robinson testified he accepted Breznican's offer of $100 cash.
George argued there was nothing unlawful about that deal.
“He (Robinson) is going to be my best witness at time of trial,” George said after the hearing. “He thought (Breznican) was doing him a favor.”
Ron Baustert, Armstrong County 911 coordinator, was a part-time Apollo police officer from March 2003 to June 2006. He testified Breznican told him about buying the guns from Robinson.
Baustert referred to a diary he kept of his dealings with Breznican after Breznican was named Apollo police chief over him. He said they had a “shaky relationship” and he had issues with Breznican's work performance and professionalism as chief. He resigned a year after Breznican's promotion.
Baustert testified to having seen Robinson's guns in the department's evidence locker. He then saw they were gone and testified Breznican told him he had sold them to Bee's Guns.
Baustert said he reported the matter to the Armstrong County District Attorney's office and borough officials. He said borough officials not acting on it was the reason he left. He also testified that he became aware his “integrity as a police officer” was being questioned by other officers in the county because of his association with the Apollo department.
Bee's Gun owner Ken Bee testified he bought a rifle from Breznican on May 7, 2006. Breznican did not tell him how he got the gun and Bee said he could not recall what he paid Breznican for it.
Bee later resold the rifle and it was not recovered, Zandarski testified. He also testified the shotgun was never recovered.
Bee testified he had known Breznican for years, that they had many dealings before and he saw nothing unusual about the transaction.
Baustert testified Breznican did.
“He said he knew it wasn't on the up and up,” Baustert said.
Breznican is free on bond pending trial.
Brian C. Rittmeyer is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4701 or firstname.lastname@example.org.