A decorated police officer that had worked for the until last spring is facing numerous charges related to his alleged misuse of authority to obtain drugs during a two-year period.
John Becker, 42, of Horsham, a former detective sergeant with Hatboro Police Department, turned himself into the Attorney General’s Office Bureau of Criminal Investigation Thursday and was preliminarily arraigned before Hatboro Magisterial District Judge Paul N. Leo.
According to a press release from the Attorney General’s Office, Becker, who joined the Hatboro Police force in 1994 and rose to the ranks of corporal in 2000 and sergeant in 2003, is accused of using police department informants to make drug purchases on his behalf. Becker is alleged to have stolen valuables from the police department’s evidence room, including firearms, cash and drugs.
Becker had served on the Montgomery County Drug Task Force and the Emergency Response Team and received commendations.
According to the criminal charges, between December 2009 and January 2011 Becker allegedly convinced or coerced several informants to make numerous drug purchases on his behalf, including powerful prescription pain medications such as Oxycontin and Percocet, along with cocaine.
Attorney General Linda Kelly said the transactions were allegedly made under the guise of assisting “undercover drug investigations” that were supposedly being conducted by Becker. In reality, Kelly said no official investigations existed and .
“These non-existent investigations allegedly created by Becker to obtain drugs put unsuspecting informants in harm’s way and also tarnished the legitimate work of police departments in Montgomery and Bucks counties,” Kelly said in a press release.
According to a release issued by Hatboro Borough Manager Steven Plaugher, Hatboro Police Chief James Gardner was notified in January 2011 that Becker had allegedly attempted to buy controlled substances in Warminster Township while he was off duty. The alleged incident was "not authorized" as part of a police investigation and kicked off a more than year-long investigation of Becker.
Additionally, Becker is accused of engaging in a series of thefts from the evidence room of the Hatboro Police Department, where he served for many years as the evidence custodian. Between 2003 and 2011, Becker allegedly stole 10 firearms, including a rare German 9mm Luger pistol, along with numerous other handguns and a 12-gauge shotgun, according to authorities.
Kelly said Becker is also accused of taking more than $18,000 in cash from the evidence room, along with an Omega watch valued at $2,700 and narcotics worth more than $2,000.
As a result of the investigation, agents executed a search warrant on Becker’s home in June 2011 – the same month he , following an - recovering several items determined to be evidence from the Hatboro Police Department evidence room, including items still bearing evidence stickers and items that Becker had allegedly designated as “destroyed” while serving as evidence custodian.
Kelly said the investigation also resulted in the recovery of five firearms that were allegedly sold by Becker to a store in Horsham and later resold to unsuspecting buyers in Pennsylvania and Texas. Four more weapons were later located in the trunk of Becker’s car.
Becker is charged with 10 counts of theft by unlawful taking or disposition, all second-degree felonies which are each punishable by up to ten years in prison and $25,000 fines.
Additionally, Becker is charged with three counts of theft by unlawful taking, all third-degree felonies punishable by up to seven years in prison and $15,000 fines.
Becker is also charged with one count of possession of a controlled substance, eight counts of unlawful restraint and 12 counts of criminal coercion, all first-degree misdemeanors each punishable by up to five years in prison and $10,000 fines, along with four counts of official oppression, a second-degree misdemeanors punishable by up to two years in prison and $5,000 fines.
Becker was released after posting 10 percent of the $10,000 bail.
Hatboro Police Chief James Gardner was reportedly at mandatory training Thursday and unable to be reached by telephone for comment. In responding to an email, Gardner referred Patch to Plaugher.
Gardner had served in a joint role as police chief and borough manager prior to last year and during the time when Becker’s alleged crimes were committed.
The borough, in the release issued by Plaugher, said that once Becker's alleged thefts were discovered, Hatboro "moved swiftly" to revise the evidence room policies, "to tighten controls and to model our evidence room policy to state accreditation standards."
Last year, under the borough's Democrat-controlled administration, , which included review of staffing, building infrastructure and more. At the time, Gardner likened the study to a step in the direction of accreditation. Earlier this year, the new Republican-controlled council abruptly, and without explanation, .
Former Council President Marianne Reymer had told Patch that the more than one-year-long investigation of Becker was what prompted the study in the first place.
In the borough's statement released Thursday afternoon following the announcement of Becker's arrest, Plaugher said that "no amount of planning could have predicted" Becker's alleged criminal actions.
"We are saddened and outraged that Sergeant Becker violated the public trust and tarnished the badge worn by the dedicated and professional members of our Police Department," according to the borough's statement. "Moving forward, our citizens should know that Mayor Hawkes and Borough Council have complete confidence in our Chief of Police and the officers who serve our Borough and keep our community safe every day."
Click here to read the criminal complaint for John Becker.