May 29—Brian Buglio must resign as West Hazleton's police chief and plead guilty to violating the civil rights of a citizen as part of an agreement reached with a federal prosecutor, according to court records.
Buglio, 45, of Lattimer Mines, allegedly threatened a citizen with criminal charges in retaliation for social media posts that the person created that were critical of Buglio and the West Hazleton Police Department, Bruce D. Brandler, acting United States Attorney for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, said Friday in a news release.
Buglio was charged in a criminal investigation Thursday, the U.S. Attorney's Office said.
The Scranton Federal Bureau of Investigation's Public Corruption Task Force, which includes members of the state police and Pennsylvania Attorney General's Office, as well as agents from the FBI and Internal Revenue Service, investigated the case.
The plea agreement that Buglio signed April 22 and Assistant U.S. Attorney Phillip J. Caraballo signed Thursday gives Buglio 10 days from entry of the plea to resign as police chief if he had not already resigned in advance of the entry of the plea.
Borough solicitor Chris Slusser said Friday that Buglio "has indeed resigned as the chief of the borough."
Slusser said that borough officials haven't made a decision who will oversee the force and said he could not comment further.
According to court documents, Buglio agreed to plead guilty to deprivation of rights under color of law.
The charge stems from a citizen who on several occasions posted content on social media in February 2020 critical of Buglio and the borough police force.
On March 4, 2020, the citizen who posted the content was allegedly directed by Buglio to meet with him at the police department.
During that meeting, Buglio allegedly threatened to pursue felony criminal charges against the individual in retaliation for the social media posts and to stifle the person's ability to exercise free speech, court records state.
"During the meeting, Brian Buglio acknowledged that the threatened felony charges lacked merit," the document reads.
At the conclusion of the March 4 meeting, the citizen agreed to remove the social media posts, refrain from creating additional posts that are critical of Buglio and the borough police department.
"Brian Buglio confirmed that they had a 'deal' and shook hands at the conclusion of the meeting," court documents read.
Caraballo alleges in court documents that on or about March 4, Buglio, while acting under the color of law, "willfully deprived" the resident of the right to engage in free speech, which includes the right to express critical opinions of law enforcement officials without being threatened with adverse action for exercising that right.
Paul Delorenzo, who said he was the person who was threatened by Buglio, believes the resignation is warranted.
"I think absolutely he should resign," Delorenzo said.
Buglio could not be reached for comment Friday. He did not answer his cellphone, which relayed an automated message about a full voicemail box.
All but one member of council could not be reached for comment about the acting U.S. Attorney's news release. Councilman Henry Kreisl II, the only member of council who answered a call Friday, directed questions about the allegation to borough solicitor Chris Slusser.
Mayor John Chura also directed questions to Slusser.
Buglio was promoted to chief by a unanimous vote of council in 2009 after Gerald Gallagher resigned from the post. Buglio was serving as sergeant at the time.
He began his law enforcement career in Weatherly in 1995 and was hired by West Hazleton the following year. He remained with West Hazleton until he and most of the borough police force had been laid off while the borough was in the state's Act 47 program for financially-distressed municipalities in 2002.
He was hired back to a full-time post with West Hazleton around 2006. The borough has since exited the Act 47 program.
Carter Walker of LNP contributed to this report.
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