Fulton County historian avoids jail time in theft of grand jury coffeemaker
JOHNSTOWN Fulton County Historian Peter Betz won’t get jail time for allegedly stealing a $125 coffeemaker, a City Court judge ruled Tuesday morning.
Betz is accused of making off with an industrial grade Keurig coffeemaker from the grand jury meeting room in the county building. He was charged with petty larceny May 7 and returned the coffeemaker at that time.
The misdemeanor charge could have landed Betz in jail for as much as a year, according to Montgomery County District Attorney James “Jed” Conboy, who handled prosecution due to a conflict of interest. Johnstown City Court Judge Thomas Walsh opted for lenience, granting the prosecution’s motion for adjournment in contemplation of dismissal.
“If Betz stays out of trouble for the next six months, the charge will be dropped,” Conboy said. “If he does get in trouble, he’ll have the new case plus this one to worry about.”
The ruling ends, for the moment at least, a months-long legal process that began April 9, when one of Fulton County District Attorney Louise Sira’s staff members noticed something about the grand jury Keurig coffeemaker had changed. The industrial grade Keurig had been replaced by a broken, home machine.
“We had as many as 23 grand jurors using that thing,” Sira said. “We had to have the industrial grade machine.”
Sira reported the original stolen, but at the time, she had no idea who had taken it or if it might even turn up within the building. After a month-long investigation, Johnstown police arrested Betz. Sira was as surprised as anyone.
“I was shocked,” she said, explaining Betz had switched out his own broken coffeemaker with the working grand jury machine.
At the time of Betz’s arrest, Johnstown police Lt. David Gilbo called the investigation a “catch-22 sort of situation.”
“It’s not worth a high dollar amount,” he said, estimating its value at $125, “but it is the district attorney’s coffee machine.”
Following the court proceedings, Sira said the whole thing was an unfortunate use of public money.
“We have serious cases going on in this office,” she said, “but stealing is stealing, whether you’re 25, or a 70-year-old county historian, and has to be treated accordingly. Betz put us all in an uncomfortable situation.”
Following the morning court appearance, Betz himself was in high spirits.
“I’m happy to have it behind me,” he said.
Betz was placed on unpaid leave from his $6,234 salaried position as county historian shortly after the arrest. He said Tuesday he plans to resign, but will remain as a Perth town councilman.
“I plan to spend more time caring for my garden and hanging out with family” he said. “I know that’s the sort of trite thing politicians are always saying, but it’s true in my case.”