Somerset PA Feb 27 2012 A Somerset borough police officer was arrested Friday on charges of taking cash in exchange for dropping charges.
Jason Ponczek, 33, of Johns-town, is charged with bribery and official oppression after state police organized a sting against him Friday evening at the Somerset police station.
He was arraigned by Magisterial District Judge Susan Mankamyer and released on $50,000 non-monetary bail.
Officer Ponczek, who has worked in Somerset since April 2008, has been suspended without pay.
According to the criminal complaint, on Jan. 22, Officer Ponczek responded to a routine call at an apartment in the borough and while inside he observed a small amount of marijuana on a coffee table.
The officer, state police said, asked the person in the home to become a confidential informant for future cases in exchange for taking a reduced charge on the marijuana. Officer Ponczek offered to drop a misdemeanor drug possession to a summary count of disorderly conduct, the complaint said.
The person agreed, according to the complaint, and contacted Officer Ponczek with information twice over the next two weeks.
Then, on Feb. 16, Officer Ponczek met with the informant and said it was time to file the charges. He said he could go to a local magistrate’s office where the person could pay the fine and costs, or the person could just pay him $500, and the charge would not be filed, police said.
“Ponczek indicated that he had bills to pay and he and the other officer do this from time to time,” the complaint said.
The subject agreed to the deal and then went to state police.
On Friday evening, Officer Ponczek contacted the confidential informant to meet for the exchange. State police gave the subject $500 in official funds and watched as the meeting took place. Officer Ponczek arrived in his patrol car and took the cash, the complaint said.
Afterward, state police arrested the officer at the borough police station.
“The Somerset Borough Police Department greets this news with both shock and sadness,” said Somerset police Chief Randy Cox. “The department and the borough of Somerset set high expectations for our officers and are committed to an honest appraisal of an officer’s performance as compared to those standards and expectations.”
The chief said he would review not only Officer Ponczek’s cases, but department policies to ensure nothing like this has happened before or will again.
“We want to make sure there’s no weaknesses in what we’re doing,” he said.
The chief said he has never had any disciplinary problems with Officer Ponczek.
Officer Ponczek worked part-time for Somerset, generally working 32 to 40 hours per week.