Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Westmoreland Sheriff Charged with Having Deputies Campaign for Him

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Westmoreland Sheriff Charged with Having Deputies Campaign for Him

Article excerpt

The state Attorney General's office has accused Westmoreland County Sheriff Jonathan Held of directing on-duty deputies to collect political contributions for his 2015 re-election campaign.

Sheriff Held, 43, of Claridge, was charged Monday with theft of services, theft by unlawful taking and conflict of interest, a felony.

Sheriff Held turned himself in and was arraigned by a district judge Monday afternoon. He was released pending a preliminary hearing March 15.

"Law enforcement officers are sworn to protect and serve our communities -not to seek contributions for their political campaign while they're on duty," state Attorney General Josh Shapiro said in a statement. "That is theft - of tax dollars and the community's right to public safety."

According to an affidavit, Paul McCommons, the former chief deputy under Sheriff Held, filed a complaint in early 2016 with the Westmoreland County District Attorney's office, saying the sheriff's office used personnel to perform political activities during working hours.

Sheriff Held, who remains on the job, could not be reached for comment Monday. His attorney, Ryan Tutera, was adamant that politics were to blame.

"This is a political witch hunt by certain political opponents who are willing to stop at nothing to tarnish Sheriff Held's good name and ultimately attempt to unseat him," Mr. Tutera said. "He never directed anybody to do anything on work time for his campaign."

Beginning in 2015, the affidavit said, Sheriff Held is accused of assigning at least one deputy to solicit for donations for his "I Out Shot the Sheriff" campaign fundraiser while on duty. Deputies were handed a list of gun stores in Westmoreland County to ask whether owners wanted to buy advertisements for the fundraiser, which consisted of a shooting competition.

A deputy who was not named in the affidavit said follow-up calls were made during normal working hours seeking political contributions from businesses that had received solicitation letters, the affidavit said. …

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