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Inmate informer in Westmoreland must serve original sentence

Rich Cholodofsky
| Wednesday, May 2, 2012, 8:35 p.m.

A convicted burglar from Hunker, who served as an informant during an investigation of criminal activity among inmates and staff at the Westmoreland County Prison a decade ago, will still have to serve his original prison sentence, a judge ruled Tuesday.

Randall K. Shotts, 39, had appealed his sentence for a string of burglaries committed in 1998 and 1999.

Shotts contended that he was misled by his former lawyer about the potential penalty he could receive for pleading guilty.

Shotts was hoping for some leniency after providing police with some information on how drug kingpin Ronald Whethers continued to run an illegal drug ring from the jail. Guards smuggled in cell phones, drugs, alcohol and chicken wings for Whethers, of McClellandtown in Fayette County.

But Westmoreland County Judge Rita Hathaway yesterday ruled that Shotts was never made any promises for a lesser sentence by either the sentencing judge or former assistant defense attorney Brian Aston.

Shotts pleaded guilty in 2001 to 13 burglaries and was sentenced to serve 29 to 133 years behind bars. He was initially offered a plea bargain in which he was to receive a sentence of 20 to 40 years in prison.

But Shotts rejected that offer, and instead entered a general guilty plea without any sentencing recommendations.

During a court hearing earlier this year, Shotts said he believed, at Aston's suggestion, that a more lenient sentence would be imposed by Westmoreland County Judge Richard E. McCormick Jr.

The judge, though, imposed a series of consecutive sentences that added up to far more than the plea deal Shotts had rejected.

"He was advised on the record that the sentences for his various crimes could run consecutively and he stated that he understood that. The defendant cannot now recant the representations he made on Feb. 26, 2001, under oath, before Judge McCormick," Hathaway wrote.

Shotts was hoping to trade his knowledge of the jail corruption scandal for a lesser sentence.

Whethers eventually pleaded guilty to drug charges in connection with the prison case and was sentenced to life without parole on a federal drug conviction. More than two dozen other people, including two jail guards, were charged and convicted. The prison warden was eventually fired as a result of the drug probe.

Whethers pleaded no contest to third-degree murder for ordering the fatal beating of William Michael Lucas, 34, of Monessen, on June 6, 1993. The victim's heart and liver were transplanted into then-Gov. Robert P. Casey.

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