Nazareth Police Chief Thomas Trachta defended his department’s integrity after a council member earlier this month publicly accused officers of mishandling money that had been stolen from a female senior citizen.
The case Councilman Larry Stoudt was referring to at meeting was that of Caleb Clift, 24. He is accused of robbing the woman on Dec. 30 of her purse in front of the in the borough, according to a report in The Express-Times.
According to Trachta, Clift had denied any wrongdoing and told officers that the money found in his possession was his. The money was kept as evidence until March 12, when Clift waived the charges against him to Northampton County Court, Trachta explained.
Following Clift’s preliminary hearing, Trachta said, the money was returned.
“I had the opportunity to personally interview the victim in court,” Trachta told members of council's Monday night. “The victim said she never spoke to anyone on council about the missing money. There was never any issue with this case. It was handled properly.”
Trachta, who did not name Stoudt during the meeting, added that he cannot address investigations in public for risk of victimizing the people involved.
“Members of law enforcement are not allowed to gossip,” he said.
Jack Herbst, chairman of the committee, said he was the one who brought the topic up to Stoudt. According to Herbst, he heard second-hand that the woman did not know where her money was.
Trachta said the whole thing was “fabricated,” adding that the victim and a family member were both contacted and informed of the case’s details.
“The real problem was that a council member made a public statement about wrongdoing with the handling of money,” Trachta said. “This council member is getting into a police matter without having anything to do with the case.”
Trachta added, “To question the integrity of the police department during a public meeting is off the charts.”
Dan Chiavaroli, president of council, said he didn’t feel the integrity of the department was compromised.
"The only thing I was made aware of was an elderly woman was wondering what happened with her property," he said. "What you are saying tonight is brand new news to me."
Herbst and Chiavaroli agreed that the conversation should have been handled differently.
Trachta hoped the message would be relayed to all of council.
“The more cases we have, the more people want to know,” he said. “I can’t gossip. I can’t give out that information. So, that needs to be put out there so they really understand that this is improper.”
Stoudt, who was not present at Monday night's meeting, was not immediately available for comment Tuesday.