Extortion trial set for Saltsburg man accused of killing gun shop owner
A Saltsburg man will go on trial for allegedly extorting at least $146,000 in raffle ticket winnings from a Tunnelton gun shop owner he is accused of fatally shooting on New Year's Eve.
Blairsville District Judge Jennifer Rega on Wednesday ordered that Jack O. Edmundson Jr., 43, be held for trial in Indiana County on charges of theft, receiving stolen property, corrupt organizations and lotteries stemming from his alleged involvement with the illegal raffle ticket sales and related money taken from the shooting victim, 62-year-old Frank S. Petro.
Edmundson has pleaded not guilty to murder, arson and assault charges stemming from the Dec. 31 confrontation with Petro at Petro's shop. Through a signed note presented by his court-appointed defense attorney, Gary Knaresboro, Edmundson waived his right to appear in person at two Wednesday hearings before Rega, who also held for court charges that Edmundson stole $17,697 in collectible coins, stamps and jewelry in a December 2012 break-in at a Saltsburg neighbor's home.
Edmundson faces a charge of impersonating a public servant. State police allege he falsely portrayed himself as an undercover investigator working with police to probe illegal raffle tickets for community groups that Petro was selling. Police say Edmundson convinced Petro to give him money from winning tickets to make the purported case against Petro “go away” and that the New Year's Eve confrontation followed after Petro learned he was being swindled and that Edmundson wasn't involved in a legitimate investigation.
The brother of the slain gun shop owner, William Petro of Saltsburg, testified that Edmundson approached him in October, told him he was investigating his brother and said, “If I could get my brother to quit selling the tickets, the case would go away.”
William Petro said he was present later the same day when Edmundson made a similar statement to his brother during a meeting in a trailhead parking area across from the Saltsburg fire hall. He said Edmundson displayed a set of handcuffs and told his brother, “We can do this the easy way, or we can do this the hard way.”
William Petro testified that when his brother asked what he should do with prize money he himself had won on one of the raffle tickets, Edmundson said he would take the money and give his brother a receipt. William Petro acknowledged he never saw his brother give any money to Edmundson.
Trooper Jason Morgan of the state police barracks in Indiana filed the theft-related charges against Edmundson. Morgan testified that he based the estimated $146,000 total for the alleged thefts on winnings from three tickets Frank Petro turned over to the defendant during the last few months of 2013.
According to Morgan, that included $42,000 Petro won on a ticket on Sept. 26; $20,000 Petro's wife, Janet, won on a separate ticket; and an $84,000 payout on a third ticket that wasn't claimed.
Under questioning by District Attorney Patrick Dougherty, Daniel Evanick of Shelocta testified he had obtained the $84,000 winner from Frank Petro on behalf of a co-worker. Evanick said when he tried to collect the prize on Oct. 20, Petro initially told him he couldn't pay and eventually noted that he was under investigation.
According to Evanick, some time later, “Frank said the money was there, but if I came and picked it up, I would be arrested. He said he was giving the money to a detective.”
Terry Czitterberg of Apollo testified that Edmundson was involved in sales of the raffle tickets. Czitterberg said he acted as a “go-between guy,” obtaining tickets from a supplier in the Greensburg area and providing them to Edmundson for resale on a monthly basis. Czitterberg said those selling tickets to the end consumer expected to receive a 10 percent tip on any winnings, which might be shared with those further up the ticket supply chain.
Morgan testified that his investigation of Edmundson's finances revealed a sudden increase in activity shortly after Edmundson's meeting with Frank and William Petro at the Saltsburg trailhead. He said the period was marked by large cash deposits into Edmundson's savings accounts and a series of big-ticket purchases although Edmundson's regular monthly household income included just $2,821 in Social Security disability benefits and about $500 in his wife's earnings.
Morgan said Edmundson made $20,000 in cash deposits to his credit union savings account, paid $4,300 in cash toward a loan on a GMC Yukon and used $9,000 in cash to pay off a loan on a Ford vehicle.
In November, Morgan said, Edmundson used a trade-in vehicle and $9,800 in cash to purchase a 2007 Lincoln MKX. According to Morgan, Edmundson also made a series of payments of “several thousand dollars at a time” to purchase four all-terrain vehicles for a total price of about $24,600 while paying $3,500 cash for a fifth ATV.
Morgan said there was a drastic increase in the frequency of Edmundson's visits to Pittsburgh's Rivers Casino and the amount he spent on each visit.
Under cross-examination by Knaresboro, Morgan acknowledged that Edmundson had served as a confidential police informant through the Greensburg state police barracks, but he said it was misleading to say that Edmundson worked for state police.
Edmundson was held for trial on theft and trespassing charges related to the Dec. 28, 2012, break-in and theft at the Saltsburg home of John Maguire.
During a separate hearing before Rega, Maguire testified he discovered the burglary after having been away on vacation. He said a gate, several doors and a metal cabinet were forced open to gain access to the stolen items, which included uncirculated silver dollars and a few gold Krugerrands. He said about $3,000 worth of jewelry also was taken.
Maguire said he saw tracks in the snow that led to his garage and noted markings that indicated something had been dragged through the snow — concluding that a large garbage can that was missing had been used to remove the stolen items.
Maguire noted that, within minutes of his arrival at his home and discovery of the break-in, Edmundson, who lives a block away, appeared near his property and yelled, “What's going on? What's happening?”
Morgan testified that a police search of Edmundson's home uncovered a number of collectible coins, which Edmundson's wife agreed to submit for inspection. Morgan said Maguire identified two items — a 1972 gold George Washington dollar and a 1970 U.S. proof set of coins — as belonging to him.
Tracing bank records, Morgan said he discovered that Edmundson had sold a large number of coins in 2013 to Westmoreland Rare Coins, receiving several thousand dollars in payment. According to Morgan, the coins matched the type and amount Maguire had reported as stolen.
Under cross-examination, Morgan acknowledged there was no witness placing Edmundson at the crime scene and that shoeprints found there could not be linked to the defendant.
Rega continued $100,000 bond for Edmundson in each of the theft-related cases. He remains in the Indiana County Jail without bond on the murder charge.
Jeff Himler is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-459-6100, ext. 2910, or firstname.lastname@example.org.