Former Bedford DA Higgins avoids jail time on corruption charges
BEDFORD, Pa. — President Judge Thomas Ling sentenced the former top prosecutor here to eight years probation, 120 days of electronic monitoring, more than 1,000 hours of community service and payment of nearly $10,000 in fines after he pleaded guilty to salacious corruption charges earlier this year.
Under the plea deal, former District Attorney Bill Higgins will lose much of his government pension and was forced out of office, but he will not spend time behind bars alongside some of the very people he prosecuted over his 14 years as district attorney.
In court Friday, Higgins apologized repeatedly to both Ling and the people of Bedford County.
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry, judge,” Higgins said. “I’m sorry.”
Higgins talked to the court about how he is trying to make amends for what he did.
Steven Passarello, Higgins’ attorney, told the court he was “asking for justice tempered with mercy in this case.”
Also in court Friday, Ling took the unusual step of allowing members of the public to make statements, since the public itself was a victim in this case, Ling argued.
Roughly half of people argued that Higgins should get a tougher sentence, while others — including his mother and uncle — talked about the good he’s done for the community.
Prosecutors and Ling also explained the plea deal that kept Higgins out of prison. Ling pointed out that it would have taken action by the state Senate and the governor to force Higgins to resign without the deal, something Ling believed hasn’t happened in recent memory.
For that reason, prosecutors said they traded jail time for an assured resignation.
Ling said it would have “paralyzed” the county’s criminal justice system to have a situation where a sitting district attorney was actively fighting criminal charges for years while still receiving a state salary.
However, Ling also pointed to the harm Higgins has done to the office.
“(Higgins) did more to damage this county’s law enforcement community than any other person in the county’s history,” Ling said.
In April, Higgins resigned after prosecutors accused him of trading lighter sentences for sexual favors from female drug dealers and reduced bail amounts.
On top of those charges, Higgins also pleaded guilty to revealing the names of nine confidential informants to drug dealers — something that prosecutors said could have put those informants, as well as law enforcement officers, in danger.
This story was updated to show that Higgins was sentenced to eight years of probation.