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Westmoreland

Prosecutors want to see Westmoreland sheriff's campaign finance records

Rich Cholodofsky
| Monday, Sept. 24, 2018, 4:54 p.m.
Westmoreland County Sheriff Jonathan Held arrives at the Greensburg office of District Judge Chris Flanigan on Feb. 26, 2018. Held is accused of ordering his staff to campaign for him while on duty.
Sean Stipp | Tribune-Review
Westmoreland County Sheriff Jonathan Held arrives at the Greensburg office of District Judge Chris Flanigan on Feb. 26, 2018. Held is accused of ordering his staff to campaign for him while on duty.

State prosecutors on Monday said an investigation continues into suspected criminal acts by Westmoreland County Sheriff Jonathan Held, with an eye towards potential campaign finance irregularities.

Speaking during a pretrial hearing, Deputy Attorney General Bobbi Jo Wagner said investigators want to examine detailed campaign records in the sheriff’s possession to determine if there is evidence that Held did not report donations towards his re-election efforts.

“He’s required to keep records, and you never really know where an investigation will go,” Wagner said.

Held, 44, of Hempfield, is awaiting trial on charges of theft and conflict of interest. State agents filed those charges in February based on allegations made by current and former deputy sheriffs who contend they were directed to perform campaign activities while on duty.

The sheriff is not charged with campaign finance crimes.

Wagner wants visiting Senior Common Pleas Court Judge Timothy Creany of Cambria County to order the defense to comply with a subpoena for Held’s personal campaign records. Those documents, which are in addition to campaign finance reports on file at the courthouse, could show items such as prizes for fund raisers, signs and other property not declared in the public record, she said.

Held served as treasurer of his own campaign committee is is required to keep those detailed records, Wagner said.

“Separate campaign charges could be filed at a later date,” Wagner said. “Quite frankly, if everything is the way it should be then this is all moot.”

Defense attorney Ryan Tutera said there is no basis for the prosecution to secure those records and asked that a subpoena for the documents be quashed.

He called the prosecution’s effort a fishing expedition and said the sheriff has nothing to hide.

“They’re grasping at straws for a very weak case. They are continuing to look under every rock for misdeeds and irregularities,” Tutera said. “Nobody is hiding anything. This is a new matter and not related to anything. If they want to investigate, get a search warrant.”

The judge directed the lawyers to submit written arguments before he renders a decision prior the start of jury selection for Held’s trial, which is scheduled for Dec. 3.

During the day-long hearing, lawyers debated questions to ask prospective jurors as well as defense motions seeking to exclude evidence of potential campaign irregularities. No witnesses testified.

Wagner also asked the judge to order the defense to turn over a private investigator’s report it commissioned as part of the case.

The judge said he will rule before trial as to other issues, including a defense request for details related to the amount of money Held is accused of stealing with regards to the theft allegations. Thefts of more than $2,000 are considered felonies, and the defense wants an accounting to show specifics with regards work hours and other charges associated with allegations that deputies performed campaign activities while working their day jobs for the sheriff’s department.

The prosecution contends the proper time to present that evidence is at trial.

Tutera said that information was the basis for the defense’s pretrial challenge of the criminal case against Held. Tutera withdrew a pretrial motion challenging the sufficiency of the evidence against the two-term incumbent sheriff, saying it will be addressed in a different manner prior to jury selection.

Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Rich at 724-830-6293 or rcholodofsky@tribweb.com.

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