Sentence handed down in case related to police fundraiser

In a case that Venango County Judge Robert Boyer described as “quite disturbing,” a Mars man was sentenced Friday to seven years of probation for failing to turn over money to the Oil City Police Department that was raised through a benefit event.

Thomas John “TJ” Burke, 34, owned and operated the for-profit event management firm OD5K (Officers Down 5K), which coordinated fundraising events to benefit law enforcement.

The Oil City Police Department coordinated with Burke for a 2017 event, of which a portion of the proceeds was supposed to be donated to Oil City for training, education and equipment for the police department.

Burke was convicted in November after a jury trial of one felony count of theft by failure to make required disposition of funds.

Total proceeds from the 2017 event were a little more than $13,000, and the Oil City Police Department was to receive about $2,300.

Burke sent one check for $250 in October 2017 and made no attempt to provide the remaining proceeds owed to the city, police said.

Police said the department received a series of excuses from Burke as well as a breakdown of expenses that were later found to be false.

Assistant district attorney Kyle Peasley argued for a period of incarceration based on information that came out during Burke’s trial.

“What became clear during the trial with Mr. Burke was that it was all excuses,” Peasley said. “It was everybody’s fault but his own as to why people weren’t paid.”

Burke’s attorney, Ryan Mergi of Sharon, argued that incarceration would be punishing his client for exercising his constitutional right to a trial. He also asked that his client not be incarcerated as he is the sole provider for an infant and a fiancee with a disability.

Boyer opted for a sentence somewhere in between the minimum and maximum penalties and ordered seven years of probation and that restitution of $2,315 be paid to the Oil City Police Department within one year.

“Now we’re two years out and not a penny has been paid,” Boyer said. “That makes a big difference if the person has made amends.”

Boyer added that he wouldn’t impose a fine because he wants the restitution to be paid.

Burke declined to make a statement in court, but after the sentencing, he said he plans to appeal the decision, arguing that the police department used his marketing content for its 2018 event.

“Without what we did, they wouldn’t have had an event,” Burke said. “They used all of our marketing without permission. That’s why we’re appealing.”

Oil City police chief Bob Wenner called Boyer’s decision fair and appropriate.

“Everybody that participated and sponsored and supported us were the victims,” Wenner said. “Truly, it wasn’t the Oil City Police Department alone. It was everything the event stood for.”

The 2018 5K fundraiser was coordinated solely by volunteers and police personnel, headed by Patrolman Regina Deloe, Wenner said.

That event raised more than $14,000 for training and equipment for the department.