Found guilty, former York police officer plans to appeal ARD denial

The York Dispatch (Pennsylvania)
BYLINE: ELIZABETH EVANS -- The York Dispatch

A former York City police sergeant is guilty of stealing money from his department's evidence room, a judge determined Wednesday at the close of a 15-minute trial. Kurt Blemler, 48, of Meadowview Road in Franklin Township, was found guilty of one count of third-degree felony theft and sentenced to 12 months of probation. One of his court conditions is that he not gamble for the next year.

But the non-jury trial was just a formality for the retired officer.

His defense attorney, Harry Ness, said now that the charges have been resolved, he can appeal Blemler's case to the state Superior Court, arguing a judge erred when refusing to allow Blemler to participate in the county's Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition program.

Ness said he will file the appeal Thursday, asking the appeals court to overturn the conviction and rule that Blemler is eligible for ARD. District Attorney Stan Rebert had agreed to allow Blemler access to ARD, which allows first-time nonviolent of-fenders to avoid conviction by instead completing court-ordered requirements. But on Feb. 12, Common Pleas Judge Michael J. Brillhart ruled Blemler was ineligible for the program. Brillhart said "the nature of these charges eliminate" Blemler from consideration.

Brillhart then denied Ness' request to hold a reconsideration hearing on the matter. Did judge err? Ness said he has legal precedent to prove Brillhart was wrong, and senior prosecutor Tim Barker agrees. "We believe strongly that the law is on the side of Mr. Blemler being allowed on ARD," Barker has said, because state law gives district attorneys "great discretion" in determining who is ARD-eligible and requires equal treatment under the law.

Ness said the law doesn't allow him to appeal the ARD ruling until there is a resolution in the case, which is why the defense agreed to a non-jury trial, presided over by Common Pleas Judge Thomas H. Kelley. Gano ruling: Both attorneys cited the case of Pennsylvania State Police Trooper Robert Gano, who was arrested in Hanover in 1998 for allegedly driving drunk while off duty. Gano applied for ARD and was approved by both Rebert and Common Pleas Judge John H. Chronister. But Chronister reconsidered and removed Gano from the program, saying police should be held to a "higher stan-dard." Gano appealed, and the Superior Court determined police cannot be held to a higher standard. He then got ARD.

Before he could mount his appeal, Gano first had to go through a stipulated bench trial -- just as Blemler did, Barker said. The trial: At Wednesday's trial, Barker read a stipulation of facts agreed upon by both sides. No witnesses were presented by either side, and no defense was offered.

The stipulation notes that between 2003 and 2006, Blemler stole $25,073 from the York City Police Department's evidence room. Blemler had access to the restricted area because he assisted the city's quartermaster, who was in charge of maintaining the evidence.

The cash Blemler stole was seized from alleged drug dealers and eventually would have been transferred to the York County Drug Task Force's forfeiture fund, Barker said. Barker told the judge because more than one person had access to the cash, it woul have been difficult to prove who actually took it -- if Blemler had not confessed. Because of that difficulty, a deal was offered to Blemler that he would be accepted into the ARD program if he con-fessed, and Blemler agreed, Barker told the judge. 'Out of control': Blemler told investigators he'd planned to return the money, and that his gambling habit had gotten "out of control," Barker said. Blemler has also paid back the entire $25,073 he stole, Barker said.

Judge Kelley questioned why Blemler's charging documents state he stole only $11,021, and Barker explained it was because the charge was filed before an audit was completed. Kelley then amended the amount for the court record. Barker said a standard-range sentence for the crime would be three to 12 months in prison, but Ness noted that with mitigating factors -- such as the defendant cooperating with police -- the range would be lower.

A 12-month probationary sentence proposal, along with accompanying conditions, was agreed upon by Barker and Ness.
Conditions: Kelley agreed to impose that sentence based on several factors, "including, but not limited to, the defendant's cooperation," and the promises made to him by investigators, he said. The conditions require Blemler to pay the costs of prosecution, submit to a mental-health evaluation for his gambling addiction, perform 35 hours of community service and refrain from gambling while on probation. Kelley also forbid Blemler from even entering a gambling establishment -- legal or otherwise -- while on probation.

Blemler declined comment Wednesday.
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