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Former Worthington police chief held for trial on felony theft charges

| Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2014, 7:51 p.m.
Louis B. Ruediger
William DeForte is shown last year outside court in Kittanning while awaiting a preliminary hearing. All of the charges against Forte were recently dismissed.

A former Worthington police chief accused of stealing rifle parts from the borough was bound over for trial after a preliminary hearing Wednesday in front of District Judge James Owen in Kittanning.

William J. DeForte, 43, who was chief from July 2009 to November 2012, is charged with felony and misdemeanor counts of theft and receiving stolen property.

“It's a troubling case, if for no other reason, that you have to appear before me,” Judge Owen said at the hearing.

DeForte is accused of taking AR-15 rifle parts worth about $250, two police radios and a charger worth about $1,500, and $540 in cash from the Worthington Police Department's evidence locker. DeForte has denied the charges.

Armstrong County Detective Robin Davis, state police Trooper Joseph Zandarski and Worthington police Chief Gerald Rodgers testified during the nearly four-hour preliminary hearing.

Rodgers testified that before he became the chief, he purchased a gun from DeForte, and when that gun didn't work, he said DeForte gave him a replacement that was later found to be the AR-15 missing from the police department.

Davis testified that during her investigation for the district attorney's office she found that there was $500 to $600 missing from the evidence locker. Rodgers said that DeForte was the only person who had keys to the locker.

“No one else but DeForte had a key before he was fired,” Rodgers said.

The reason DeForte was fired in 2012 was never released. The criminal charges against him were lodged in January.

DeForte's defense attorney, Charles Pascal, argued during the hearing that between the time the stolen item were taken and when they were discovered missing, several people other than his client had access to where the items were stored. But that argument did not sway the judge at the hearing to determine if there is reasonable evidence to support the charges against the defendant.

“I am satisfied that the commonwealth has presented enough to support their case,” Judge Owen said.

Judge Owen released DeForte on his own recognizance after the hearing. The former chief declined to comment about the charges or the case when the hearing ended.

Brigid Beatty is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-543-1303 or bbeatty@tribweb.com.

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