Police: Derry Township constable used fake arrest warrants to scam money from victims
A Derry Township constable is accused by police of pocketing $3,816 that nine victims paid him last year, believing he would take care of their court matters — some of which didn’t exist, according to court papers.
Brian William McDowell, 35, allegedly tried to get money from five more people between August and December by saying they would otherwise be arrested on fictitious warrants, police said. He was being held at the Westmoreland County Prison on Friday on charges of extortion, theft and official oppression.
McDowell 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 that McDowell was elected with one write-in vote.
Deputy Court Administrator Don Heagy said he will ask the president judge to suspend McDowell’s abilities to serve as a constable until the case is resolved.
County and Latrobe police detectives allege in court documents that McDowell contacted people in the community through Facebook, friends and text messages in an effort to help them with unpaid court fines, warrants or other matters, some of which investigators said were fictitious. In other cases, McDowell was contacted to assist with court matters and he demanded payment for things like “constable insurance,” according to the complaint.
In several instances, victims told police that McDowell threatened to arrest them if they did not pay up.
On Dec. 3, he tapped a victim on the shoulder at a gas station in Peanut and said “you’re on my list to be picked up” for late payments on fines, detectives reported.
“(The victim) stated McDowell told him if he could pay the ‘constable fees’ of $120, he could ‘freeze’ the warrant so no one else could serve it on him,” according to the complaint.
Several victims told police they later checked with court offices and were told that the payments had never been made or the warrants or fines didn’t exist. One victim who paid McDowell $960 learned, after being involved in a crash in December, his delinquent fines had never been paid when he was detained on a bench warrant, according to the complaint.
Some were suspicious of McDowell’s requests and never gave him money.
Heagy said constables are peace officers and are elected to protect the polls twice a year. They can serve civil matters filed at Westmoreland County district courts, such as landlord-tenant issues. Constables must be registered with the county sheriff’s office to serve criminal arrest warrants.
Constables have statewide jurisdiction, Heagy said. They make money through minor fees. For example, a constable can charge $13 for serving a landlord-tenant complaint under state law.
Attorney Michael DeMatt said during an arraignment hearing Friday that McDowell, who works at The Road Toad in Ligonier Township, should be freed on an unsecured or recognizance bond.
“He’s not going anywhere, he has no criminal history,” DeMatt said.
District Judge Mark Bilik pointed to the nine felony charges McDowell is facing, calling the $20,000 bail the judge imposed “more than fair.”
A preliminary hearing is set for Wednesday.
Renatta Signorini is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Renatta at 724-837-5374, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @byrenatta.
Renatta Signorini is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Renatta at 724-837-5374, email@example.com or via Twitter .