Former Ford City Councilman Sentenced to Jail, House Arrest

Thomas Shaffer, shown in this 2009 photo, was sentenced yesterday to two months in incarceration and eight months of house arrest in addition to 100 hours of community service and paying a final payment of $10,000 back to Rep. Jeff Pyle’s campaign.

by Jonathan Weaver

A county judge has sentenced a Ford City man who stole from State Rep. Jeff Pyle’s campaign fund to terms of house arrest and incarceration.

Thomas Dean Shaffer, 52, of 309 O`Connor Street was sentenced to two months in the Armstrong County Jail and eight months of house arrest under electronic monitoring, in addition to restitution charges, Tuesday morning by Judge Kenneth Valasek.

Court records show $30,614.77 was stolen during Pyle’s 2010 campaign throughout 16 check payments. Shaffer has paid $27,000 of that total owed in restitution payments. Shaffer must also pay an additional $6,500 for court fees under the plea agreement.

“It comes obvious to me that there wasn’t just one moment – this was a course of conduct that happened over a period of time and didn’t happen in what could be argued as a weak moment,” Valasek said. “This was thought out.”

Still, Valasek took the amount already repaid toward Pyle into account before delivering the sentence, finding probation too weak because of the severity of the crime and total incarceration too strong because of the paid amount.

“Making victims whole is part of the duties of this court and I want to promote the practice of people paying back money before sentencing,” Valasek said.

Shaffer also can not have any contact with Pyle, either at his home or offices and must perform 100 hours of community service.

Following the sentencing, Pyle said he respected Judge Valasek’s decision.

“I’ll accept it, but it’s disappointing,” Pyle said. “I was more worried about clearing my name in the eyes of the State – which I did. I was a little taken aback by the lightness of the judge’s sentence, but I’ll respect it.”

Shaffer did not have any comments before his sentence. His attorney, Scott A. Bitar of Bitar & Bitar, LLC in New Kensington, did not return phone calls to his office to comment.

District Attorney Scott Andreassi said he thought the sentence was appropriate.

“It is an appropriate sentence and as of today, Tom Shaffer is a convicted felon,” Andreassi said.

Shaffer has applied for work release, but the status of which is unknown since it did not reach Valasek before his sentencing began at approximately 9:40AM Tuesday.

Before the sentence, Pyle said many personal and political hardships that resulted from Shaffer’s actions were untold.

“No where in here is mention of me having to tell my 14-and 12-year-old daughters that all they could say was ‘no comment’ for months,” Pyle said.

Pyle said he was required to get a $25,000 donation from a campaign supporter three days before his election.

“I just wish this thing was done and behind me,” Pyle testified.

Investigation into the payments began with a check bank officials denied because of insufficient funds.

Valasek said that Shaffer embarrassed many during his behavior, including Pyle, Ford City residents – because of being a former councilman and past-Ford City Borough Municipal Sewage Disposal Authority – and himself.

“You just plain-out embarrassed them down there,” Valasek said.

Shaffer was arrested in November and served two days in the Armstrong County Jail before a $50,000 bail was paid.