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Judge drops bribery charge against ex-Apollo chief; other charges remain

| Tuesday, March 19, 2013, 12:31 a.m.
Valley News Dispatch
Former Apollo police Chief Paul Breznican.

An Armstrong County judge dismissed a felony bribery charge in the theft case against former Apollo police Chief Paul Breznican but he still faces trial on 20 other charges.

Breznican's attorney in February filed a motion requesting the dismissal of all but three of the 21 charges filed against Breznican last summer by state police and the state attorney general's office. Attorney Duke George had claimed the prosecution had not met its burden of proof to justify the charges.

Breznican, 53, of Apollo is accused of improperly taking and selling guns, ammunition and other borough property while he was serving as police chief.

Apollo Council fired Breznican in November; he had been on suspension since June and previously was off duty due to an injury.

Judge James J. Panchik on Friday dismissed the bribery charge, indicating in his order that no evidence was presented to prove the gun sale relating to that charge occurred while Breznican was acting as police chief.

The attorney general's office alleges that in April 2006 Breznican took a .30-30 Winchester rifle and a shotgun from a friend, Mark Robinson, whose family had asked Breznican to check on.

Breznican allegedly told Robinson he could get the guns back at a later time.

But when Robinson inquired about the guns, Breznican allegedly told him the return would involve significant “red tape and paperwork” and instead offered Robinson $100 for the weapons, according to court testimony.

Panchik upheld four counts of theft and two counts of receiving stolen property that dealt with those two guns.

The judge wrote that the evidence presented so far indicated Breznican did not return the guns to Robinson, was deceptive regarding the so-called “red tape” involved in returning them and was coercive by using his status as police chief.

“However, we agree with (Breznican) that the .30-30 Winchester firearm and shotgun allegedly taken from Mr. Robinson were neither Apollo Borough property nor entrusted to it,” Panchik wrote. “There is no evidence that (Breznican) took these firearms in his official capacity. …”

Therefore, Panchik dismissed the bribery charge. He also amended two other charges — obstructing administration of law and misapplication of government property — to indicate they no longer applied in reference to the Robinson guns.

Because the latter two charges also involved other alleged gun and property sales, Breznican still is charged with those offenses.

In all, Breznican faces a total of 20 charges, including theft, receiving stolen property, misapplication of entrusted government property and obstructing administration of law.

Two counts are misdemeanors; the rest are felonies.

Six other charges — official oppression and five counts of misapplication of entrusted government property — were withdrawn during a preliminary hearing in October before Ford City District Judge J. Gary DeComo.

“When we filed (the motion to dismiss charges), there was no question in my mind … that a lot of these charges lodged against Chief Breznican really didn't have any merit at all,” said Duke George, who took over as Breznican's attorney in August after Breznican parted ways with previous attorney Greg Swank.

George said he was pleased Panchik ruled in Breznican's favor on some of the counts. George estimated that his client's trial will occur within one to two months.

“It's now up to a jury to decide whether he's guilty beyond a reasonable doubt,” George said. “I think we have a valid defense on most of the charges.”

“We have received the judge's order, and we have it under review,” said Dennis Fisher, a spokesman for the attorney general's office.

Liz Hayes is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4680 or lhayes@tribweb.com.

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