Derry Township constable ordered to stand trial on theft, extortion accusations
The situation seemed to make sense at first for a Hempfield man who gave a Derry Township constable $2,000 last year for a purported shooting competition.
Matthew Sellers signed up for what he thought was a couple sponsorships and gave Brian McDowell, 35, some extra cash to fix a scope on the gun McDowell claimed to be using in the competition, Sellers testified during a preliminary hearing Monday.
Sellers got emails from a person known as “Sgt. Alex Ridlock” providing updates about the competition.
“That’s what made the thing seem pretty legit, because it wasn’t just Brian, it was some other individual involved,” Sellers testified.
Investigators allege McDowell pocketed nearly $12,000 by collecting money for the purported competition and from others who he claimed had warrants out for their arrest.
District Judge Mark Bilik ordered McDowell to stand trial on numerous theft, extortion and official oppression charges following the all-day hearing. McDowell remains free on bail in three cases.
Police accuse McDowell of taking money between April and December from 23 people and attempting to get cash from seven others. Many of them testified Monday that McDowell requested payments to erase warrants that didn’t exist or “freeze” the system to prevent other law enforcement from making an arrest.
He won a six-year term as constable as a write-in candidate in the November 2015 election to represent Derry Borough’s Ward 4. County voting records show McDowell was elected with one vote.
Westmoreland County courts have been suspended from using McDowell as a constable until the case is resolved. McDowell has said he was getting substance abuse treatment.
During Monday’s hearing, he shook his head and took notes as victims took the witness stand. His attorney did not offer any argument.
Some victims testified they sought out McDowell to help with legal matters. Michael Rose of Derry testified he requested McDowell’s assistance in retrieving belongings from a former residence. McDowell charged him $350.
“He said it was normally $400-something, but he said I’d get a discount if he met me and paid him cash,” Rose testified.
When Rose eventually didn’t need McDowell’s help after all, McDowell directed Rose to “Sgt. Alex Ridlock” to get a refund, according to testimony. Rose said he hasn’t gotten his money back.
Other victims said they were contacted by McDowell through the Facebook Messenger app. Sara Halula of Latrobe testified she “panicked” when McDowell said there was a warrant out for her arrest for $312 in unpaid fines. She paid McDowell $437.25, which Halula testified included what McDowell described as “constable fees.”
“He acted like he was helping me out,” she said. “He told me he had my case froze in the system so other cops couldn’t look at my file.”
Renatta Signorini is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Renatta at 724-837-5374, email@example.com or via Twitter .