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Drug epidemic tops agendas of Westmoreland DA candidates

| Monday, Oct. 28, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Peter Borghetti
Westmoreland County District AttorneyJohn Peck

Peter Borghetti, the Republican challenger to longtime Westmoreland County District Attorney John Peck, said he's ready for a career change.

Peck, who took office in 1994, said his trial experience and record as a prosecutor qualify him for a fifth term in office as the county's top cop.

While both men said the countywide drug epidemic that has resulted in a record number of overdose deaths is a key issue, each favors a different approach to help curb the use of heroin and prescription drugs.

Borghetti said he wants the district attorney to coordinate a drug task force to directly educate the public and conduct investigations to reduce drug abuse in the county.

“It should specifically be under the district attorney's control. It's imperative that part of the drug task force work at prevention as well as trying to work to save one life. That's my goal,” Borghetti said.

Peck said a task force run by the state Attorney General's Office has been in place for years to investigate drug offenses throughout the county. The district attorney's office prosecutes cases brought by the task force.

He said additional county detectives could be hired to enhance task force investigations.

“We certainly don't de-emphasize drug cases,” Peck said. “The attorney general's drug task force works with local law enforcement and police chiefs. They know where the problems are.”

The district attorney oversees a staff of 22 assistant lawyers, 17 detectives and seven victim witness coordinators.

The office prosecutes about 5,500 criminal cases each year and an additional 1,000 cases involving children in the juvenile court system.

In addition to his administrative responsibilities, Peck serves as the office's lead trial attorney in most high-profile cases. He said he intends to continue to do so.

The incumbent said the office, under his leadership, would continue to vigorously pursue cases in which illegal guns are used and to prosecute sex offenders.

“The most likely people to re-offend are people who abuse children, physically and sexually. We try to get the very best lawyers in the office to prosecute them. The only way to protect children is to incarcerate them so they don't re-offend,” Peck said.

Peck said he should continue to serve as the county's top prosecutor.

“It's a job where you feel you can really make a difference in people's lives,” Peck said. “I want to continue to maintain an office known for its honesty, integrity and hard work.”

Borghetti, who works as a private patent and contracts lawyer for a Pittsburgh law firm, said he would serve a mostly administrative role in the office.

“There's a team of assistant district attorneys who are more than capable, but possibly I might prosecute some cases in the courtroom. It all depends what the case is,” Borghetti said.

Borghetti and his family moved to Westmoreland County from Boston about seven years ago. He previously worked for 14 years as an engineer before becoming a lawyer.

He said that while he supports rights of gun owners, he would strongly prosecute cases in which firearms are used illegally.

“My goal is to make Westmoreland County safer and protect senior citizens. Westmoreland County deserves a district attorney who will be fair and tough,” Borghetti said. “The status quo is no longer acceptable, especially when it comes to the drug issues.”

Rich Cholodofsky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6293 or rcholodofsky@tribweb.com.

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