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Judge delays sentencing of former East Washington police chief for hearing on informant payments

| Thursday, May 16, 2013, 1:21 p.m.

A federal judge on Thursday halted the sentencing of a former East Washington police chief convicted of corruption charges because the defense argued that prosecutors failed to turn over information on how much the government paid an informant.

Donald Solomon, 57, pleaded guilty in January to three counts of violating the Hobbs Act, which makes it illegal for public officials to perform official actions for personal gain. The former police chief admitted to providing protection and weapons to people whom he thought were moving cocaine through his Washington County borough.

Marketa Sims, an assistant federal public defender, objected to the prosecution playing 24 audio and video clips at the sentencing hearing because the government didn't say what the man who helped tape many of the conversations was paid in return for his help.

U.S. District Judge Joy Flowers Conti allowed the prosecutor to play the clips but ordered them to turn over the information so that Sims could see it during a scheduled break in the hearing.

After the break, Sims said the FBI paid the informant $31,200 over two years. She requested a hearing on whether the FBI effectively coerced the informant into making the recordings by offering the money.

U.S. Attorney David Hickton said the money represents payments in several cases. Sims said the acknowledgment strengthens her argument because the informant was effectively an FBI employee.

“It emphasizes his desire to please the FBI,” she told the judge.

Conti indicated she is skeptical because the amount comes to about $15,000 annually.

“It's not enough money to live a lavish lifestyle,” the judge said.

Nevertheless, Conti ordered a hearing on the issue for June 14 and adjourned the sentencing hearing.

Solomon, who remains free on bond, Sims and Hickton declined comment after the hearing.

FBI Special Agent Travis Cooke testified that the investigation started with the informant telling Solomon that the informant had been hired to protect a drug transaction.

Solomon asked the informant to see if he also could get paid to provide protection and subsequently agreed to protect the transfer of 4 kilograms of cocaine for $500 per kilo. The “drug dealers” were undercover federal agents. Solomon voluntarily escorted one of them as he drove his vehicle back to an interstate highway, Cooke said.

Solomon provided protection for a second transaction, in which he thought they were moving 10 kilograms of cocaine and that he was paid $700 for each kilo. The former chief also used his position to buy police-only Tasers for the undercover agents and agreed to see whether he could find silencers, explosives and untraceable guns for them, Cooke said.

Federal guidelines recommend a sentence of 11 years and 3 months to 14 years based on Solomon's abuse of his position and the type of crime he was willing to aid.

Sims is arguing that the government unfairly inflated the possible sentence by increasing the amount of fictitious drugs in the second transaction and generally preyed on Solomon's financial problems to induce him into committing the crimes.

Brian Bowling is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-325-4301 or bbowling@tribweb.com.

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