A police chief in Pennsylvania who threatened a private citizen with felony charges in retaliation for critical Facebook comments has agreed to plead guilty to a charge of deprivation of civil rights, federal prosecutors said.
Brian Buglio was the police chief for West Hazleton, about 50 miles southwest of Scranton, when a private citizen on multiple occasions in February 2020 “posted social media content on Facebook criticizing Buglio and the West Hazleton Police Department,” according to records filed in U.S. District Court Middle District of Pennsylvania.
The critical social-media posts prompted a meeting between Buglio, 45, and the private citizen at the West Hazleton Police Department on March 4, 2020, court records said.
“During that meeting, Brian Buglio, acting under color of law, threatened to pursue felony criminal charges against Individual #1, in retaliation for Individual #1’s social media posts on Facebook and to stifle Individual #1’s exercise of free speech. During that meeting, Brian Buglio acknowledged that the threatened felony charges lacked merit.”
Following the face-to-face, the private citizen agreed to take down his critical social media posts, and also agreed to refrain from any more demeaning posts. Buglio and the private citizen cemented the pact with a handshake, court records said.
The case was investigated by the Scranton Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Public Corruption Task Force. The task force is comprised of members with the Pennsylvania State Police, the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office, and agents with the FBI and Internal Revenue Service, officials said.
Federal documents show Buglio has agreed to plead guilty to the charge against him. Buglio’s lawyer, listed as Fortunato N. Perri, Jr., based in Philadelphia, did not immediately respond to an NBC News request for comment on Tuesday. The charge Buglio is facing has a maximum penalty of one year imprisonment, and a fine of $100,000, records said.
NBC affiliate WNEP-TV in Scranton identified the victim as Paul DeLorenzo of East Stroudsburg.
DeLorenzo, who could not be reached Tuesday for comment, told the news outlet: “I said to Brian, ‘Why are you doing this?’ He goes, ‘Well, you like to post fake things and fake stories about me so, I could make up a fake arrest and put you in jail.'”
It was unclear on Tuesday if Buglio remained police chief with the West Hazleton Police Department. Inquiries to the police and West Hazleton officials were directed to Borough Solicitor Chistopher B. Slusser. Slusser did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
West Hazleton police have four full time and four part time officers, according to the department’s website. Buglio has worked for the department since 1996.