Ziegler resigns after pleading to misdemeanor
NORRISTOWN Douglass (Mont.) Township Supervisor Frederick Ziegler said he was “worn out” as he pleaded guilty Wednesday to a misdemeanor charge and resigned his seat as a supervisor.
In what Judge Gary S. Silow called a “thoughtful and honorable” plea agreement for both sides, Ziegler, 63, pleaded guilty to a second-degree misdemeanor charge of unsworn falsification related to a subpoena he handed to Boyertown Police Chief Barry Leatherman that matched no legal case in court.
“He did possess a Montgom-
ery County subpoena with a fictitious docket number and attempted to serve the subpoena with the intent of misleading a public official,” said Pennsylvania Deputy Attorney General Michelle L. Laucella.
The subpoena was part of what Ziegler said was an investigation into rumors that he was in possession of stolen property, and under the umbrella of a lawsuit that claimed other township officials were defaming him.
Ziegler was sentenced immediately by the judge to one year of probation. The plea also came with the condition that Ziegler resign immediately as supervisor and never seek public office again. Ziegler’s defense attorney Vincent DiFabio said that his client’s resignation from his elected office was made on the record in court and is sufficient as a formal resignation.
“He wanted to get these theft charges and conflict of interest charges resolved and once we had them resolved — and we were quite confident we were going to resolve them favorably — once that was accomplished he had planned to resign anyway,” DiFabio added.
After a three-day bench trial, in which Silow would have determined Ziegler’s guilt or innocence, the supervisor took his fate into his own hands by agreeing to the terms set forth by the prosecution. In exchange for his guilty plea to the unsworn falsification charge, all other charges were dropped.
“One of our main goals in this case was to have him exonerated on the charges involving theft of township property and conflict of interest and we accomplished that goal today by having the state drop those charges,” DiFabio said.
Ziegler agreed to an open plea, with no sentence attached, but Judge Silow asked if the defendant was prepared to be sentenced right away.
“Are you in a good mood?” Ziegler asked the judge.
“I’m always in a good mood,” Silow replied.
As he sentenced Ziegler to probation, Silow spoke about how as an elected official, Ziegler was held to a higher standard. Even so, he commended the supervisor for his years of service to Douglass Township.
“You lived your life for Douglass Township, and the line was blurred between your personal and professional life,” Judge Silow said, calling the trail a sad occasion. “Maybe things used to be different, but times have changed. There is more scrutiny of public officials.”
Ziegler addressed the court before the judge sentenced him, repeating that the charges against him had worn him out. The trial had to be postponed during the second day of testimony after Ziegler was suffering from severe pains in his left arm. When the trial resumed a week later, he said he was feeling “100 percent better.” But as he addressed the court, it was clear the trial had taken a toll.
“I gave the community and the county 40-some years of my life, and it’s the end of the road,” Ziegler said. “It’s time to move one.
Ziegler, who retired in 2004 after 30 years with the township’s police department, the last 12 years as its chief, before becoming a township supervisor, was being tried on charges of theft by unlawful taking, receiving stolen property, forgery, tampering with public records, unsworn falsification to authorities, intimidation and retaliation against witnesses and conflict of interest in connection with alleged incidents that occurred between August 2012 and December 2014. With the plea, all allegations of theft or fraud were dismissed, leaving only the charge that he knowingly handed over a false subpoena to obtain information about the theft charges against him.
During the trial, a deputy for the Montgomery County Office of the Prothonotary testified that anyone is able to purchase a subpoena, but the docket number listed on the subpoena Ziegler used did not match any existing case in Montgomery County Court.
“You were found not guilty of any of the theft charges, but you were so concerned, it turned over to something you did do wrong,” the judge told him. “You became so paranoid that people were out to get you and you stepped outside the line of what you would usually do.”
The case was referred to the Office of the Attorney General since Ziegler was once employed with the Montgomery County District Attorney’s extradition unit. A spokesman for the office commented that the prosecution was pleased with the result of the plea.
“This was a difficult decision for the office but ultimately we believed this was the appropriate result because it requires the defendant to immediately resign his position and not seek public office in the future,” said spokesman Jeffrey Johnson. “We believe this will give the township the opportunity to move forward.”