Crime & Justice

Former Pa. judge now living in Alaska pleads guilty in missing cocaine case

WASHINGTON, Pa. -- A retired western Pennsylvania judge pleaded guilty Friday to stealing cocaine that prosecutors said he ordered police to keep in his chambers instead of police evidence lockers.

Former Washington County Judge Paul Pozonsky entered the plea to charges of theft by unlawful taking, obstructing the administration of law and misapplication of entrusted property in the same courthouse where he used to work.

The misdemeanor counts carry a maximum of two years in prison, but prosecutors said in a plea agreement that they would not seek jail time. Two of the counts could result in Pozonsky forfeiting his pension, the state attorney general's office said.

A felony charge and two other counts were dropped under the deal.

The 59-year-old Pozonsky is scheduled for sentencing in July.

Attorney general's office spokeswoman Carolyn Myers said Pozonsky abdicated his duty as a judge responsible for presiding over drug cases and corrupted the system by misappropriating evidence.

Myers, in the statement, said Pozonsky took the cocaine "for his own illegal use."

Pozonsky's lawyer, Robert Del Greco Jr., did not immediately respond to a telephone message.

Pozonsky resigned without explanation and moved to Alaska in June 2012 after 28 years as a judge -- 15 years in Common Pleas court and 13 years as a magisterial district judge, which is similar to a justice of the peace in many other states.

Pozonsky's exit came about a month after President Judge Debbie O'Dell Seneca ordered him to handle only civil court cases. He had previously handled most of the criminal cases in the county seated about 25 miles southwest of Pittsburgh.

Seneca made the move after Pozonsky ordered the destruction of evidence in 16 criminal drug cases.

Pozonsky withdrew that order after county prosecutors objected, saying defendants had appeal rights, but the evidence already had been destroyed.

State police investigators then examined the evidence in other drug cases Pozonsky handled and found "cocaine was either missing or had been tampered with," according to a criminal complaint.

A state grand jury later found that Pozonsky would often require police to bring drug evidence with them to pretrial hearings -- one officer told the grand jury it was the only time in 14 years he had ever been asked to do that -- and then insist on storing the drugs himself.

He was charged in May 2013. At the time, Del Greco said Pozonsky had cooperated with the investigation and resigned "out of respect for the law."