Ex-mayor gets probation in Wild West museum artifacts case

FILE – This July 10, 2003 file photo shows an 1800s field printing press used by the U.S. Army in the Arizona Territory to make posters of escaped Apache war chief Geronimo, displayed at the Harrisburg, Pa., Mayor Stephen Reed's office in Harrisburg. A sentencing hearing for Reed is scheduled for Friday, Jan. 27, 2017, in a courthouse around the corner from the mayoral offices he once occupied. Reed will learn if he’ll spend time in jail after pleading guilty to accumulating Wild West artifacts he bought with public money for a museum that was never built. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)

A former Pennsylvania mayor is avoiding jail time after pleading guilty to accumulating Wild West artifacts he bought with public money

HARRISBURG, Pa. — A former Pennsylvania mayor avoided jail time Friday but will serve two years on probation for accumulating Wild West artifacts he bought with public money for a museum that was never built.

Former Harrisburg Mayor Stephen Reed was sentenced to two years of probation during a brief hearing in the courthouse around the corner from his one-time mayoral offices.

Reed told Judge Kevin Hess that he took responsibility for his crimes, which include two felonies. He apologized and called his prosecution "a gut-wrenchingly humiliating" process.

Reed, a 67-year-old Democrat, pleaded guilty earlier this week to 20 counts of receiving stolen property. All the charges involve photos or documents, a small portion of some 1,800 items investigators seized from his properties about two years ago.

Hess said prison time would have been grossly disproportionate and said his sentence took into account Reed's guilty plea, his lack of a criminal record, his efforts to improve the city over 28 years as mayor and his current cancer diagnosis.

"This is not about the propriety of raising money for historical artifacts, nor is it about the wisdom of building museums in Harrisburg," the judge said.

Rebecca Franz, a prosecutor with the state attorney general's office, said the result "achieved justice."

Reed told reporters he decided to plead guilty after concluding with certainty that the 20 photos and letters at issue were city property. He has said they may have inadvertently ended up in his possession as he was packing up at the end of his mayoral term.

"I would have had to sit there and either tell the judge and the jury either that they belong to the city or sit there and put up some bogus defense for something that I know wasn't the case," Reed said. "I will not lie and cannot lie under oath."

He was also fined $2,000 and ordered to pay the costs of prosecution.

Reed, who served seven terms as mayor, lost the 2009 primary amid criticism over the millions of dollars he had spent on museum-related items. He and city officials scoured the country for artifacts that would stock the museum, which he had called part of a wider plan to make the city a museum destination for tourists.

Harrisburg's current mayor, Eric Papenfuse, said after the sentencing that jail time would have been more appropriate, considering how much Reed's actions harmed the city.

"This was never about just a photo of Geronimo or a cashed check of a famous bank robber. This was about a systematic pattern of corruption," Papenfuse said, noting the city had to sell off its parking system and trash incinerator, and that water bills have skyrocketed.

"We are paying the price of these actions today and will, for generations yet to come, and I believe that should have counted into the judge's decision," Papenfuse said.

Reed said the 20 items for which he pleaded guilty were the only ones that belonged to the city among the items seized from his home and other properties two years ago. Papenfuse contended that they were all city property. A hearing on Reed's effort to recover many of them is scheduled for March.

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