PITTSBURGH—The federal sentencing of a former southwestern Pennsylvania police chief who pleaded guilty to extortion charges was delayed indefinitely Thursday after the defense questioned whether the FBI paid an informant so much money that he didn't legally qualify to secretly tape conversations with the defendant.

At the sentencing hearing for former East Washington Police Chief Donald Solomon, 56, the defense said secretly recorded conversations between Solomon and the confidential informant should have been excluded as evidence.

Public Defender Marketa Sims said the FBI pay was so "lucrative" that the informant couldn't legally consent to have his conversations recorded. By law, at least one person involved in a secretly recorded conversation must consent, but Sims argued that case law shows consent can be tainted if an informant is so eager to please the FBI, the informant can't say no.

Sims told the judge the FBI paid the informant, who hasn't been identified, $31,200 over two years for his work on the Solomon case and other investigations.

"It's not enough money to live a lavish lifestyle by any means," U.S. District Judge Joy Flowers Conti said.

Still she ordered prosecutors to provide details of the informant's compensation within two weeks, and said she plans to hold a hearing June 14 to determine whether the informant legally consented to the recordings.

Assistant U.S.


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Attorney Robert Cessar argued the informant's compensation question amounted to a "tempest in a teapot" because not all the recordings involve the informant and other evidence, including a confession, exists to prove Solomon's guilt.

Solomon pleaded guilty in January to extorting about $8,800 in payments from FBI agents pretending to be drug dealers. In exchange, he provided protection for two staged drug deals in 2011, involving what he believed was the sale of more than 30 pounds of cocaine. He also bought two Taser stun guns, which can only be purchased by police, and supplied them to the agents posing as dealers.

Sims told the judge the defense might withdraw Solomon's guilty plea if the recordings are thrown out as evidence because Sims wasn't given the compensation information despite a request that prosecutors provide it before the plea.

Even if the plea is not withdrawn, having Conti throw out the recordings could help Sims argue for a lesser sentence.

Federal guidelines call for between 30 and 37 months in prison on federal extortion charges, but a defendant can face a stiffer sentence if the extortion relates to a more serious crime, in Solomon's case, cocaine trafficking.

U.S. Attorney David Hickton and two assistants want Solomon to face more than 11 years in prison under the sentencing guidelines for cocaine trafficking.

FBI Special Agent Travis Cooke played video and audio recordings of Solomon interacting with the informant and FBI agents posing as drug dealers. The recordings showed Solomon parking in two different lots—in his police SUV while in full uniform—for the staged drug deals in August 2011 and the following month. The recordings also include Solomon telling the informant who introduced him to the dealers: "I'm the best cop money can buy."