After four years of high-profile prosecutions and progressive policies, Bucks County’s DA is seeking reelection
Matt Weintraub hopes his pragmatic approach to criminal justice will transcend party lines in November.
After four teens went missing in Bucks County in 2017, Matt Weintraub was a voice of reassurance and authority as law enforcement officials searched for them day after day while the country watched in worry — and then horror after they were found dead on a remote Solebury Township farm.
In nationally televised news conferences, Weintraub, then interim district attorney, gave daily updates and when authorities solved the crime, quietly brokered a deal with the boys’ killer, Cosmo DiNardo, who led detectives to their bodies in exchange for a plea agreement that spared him the death penalty.
But before that outcome, behind closed doors, Weintraub said he wept, out of frustration and anger that authorities couldn’t solve the case sooner and bring the boys home to their families. Still, his negotiations with DiNardo and his lawyer brought closure — and eventually, he said, a measure of justice as DiNardo was sentenced to four consecutive life terms in state prison.
Four years later, as Weintraub reflects on those early days handling one of the most heinous crimes in Bucks County’s history, he says it taught him to take decisive action and helped shape his work as the county’s top prosecutor.
“I remember thinking ‘I have to find some DA finishing school,’ ” Weintraub said in a recent interview. “ ‘I’m going to have to learn to speak better. I’m going to have to learn how to be the shot-caller.’ And then one crisis occurred after another.” As Bucks County’s top law enforcement official, he’s overseen a series of high-profile prosecutions.
There was the rape, murder and dismemberment of 14-year-old Grace Packer by her adoptive mother’s boyfriend. Jacob Sullivan was sentenced to death for killing the girl and storing her body in kitty litter before cutting up her corpse and disposing of her remains in the woods of Luzerne County. And there was the case of Dominique and Shana Decree a mother and daughter who killed five of their relatives, including 9-year-old twin girls and a 13-year-old boy, in a cramped Morrisville apartment. They were sentenced to life in prison after admitting to the crimes.
In November, the Republican Weintraub is seeking reelection as DA in a county where Democrats have a 13,000-voter advantage. His first election came in 2017, as he was fresh off his handling of the DiNardo case. This time, he is seeking a return to office as the only GOP row officer, not only in Bucks County, but in all of the Pennsylvania suburbs surrounding Philadelphia.
Weintraub, 52, is aware of the stakes but says for him, the job is not about politics. And he hopes that his pragmatic approach to criminal justice can cross party lines and appeal to voters concerned about safety in their communities.
“I used to believe that if you want to be in the criminal law business, you’re either trying to lock people up or get them out,” he said. “Well, that is a gross oversimplification. There are not two sides; there are no sides. There’s one side, and it’s all about getting it right. It’s all about seeking justice.”
» READ MORE: A former Bucks County prosecutor is running to unseat her old boss as district attorney
His opponent is Antonetta Stancu, a former prosecutor on his staff who has pledged to focus on progressive policing and public safety.
Stancu, in an interview with The Inquirer, criticized her former boss’ interest in diversionary programs for people with mental illness as too little, too late. And she said he allowed friendships and political considerations to influence decisions in his office. Stancu pledged to bring more transparency to the job and reconfigure the office budget so it focuses more on issues beyond the courtroom.
Weintraub and his supporters stress that he has brought more to the office than successful convictions. In the last two years, he has spearheaded programs for low-level drug offenders, sparing them incarceration in favor of treatment and helped create a “co-policing” program that pairs local officers with social workers in answering calls for help.
The chair of the county’s Republican Party, Patricia Poprik, said Weintraub’s reputation for being “tough but fair-minded” has gained him respect from voters.
“He doesn’t turn his back on anyone, victim or suspect,” Poprik said. “His compassion speaks for itself, and he has made it his priority not to leave anyone just thrown away and forgotten.
» READ MORE: ‘We must fund the police’: Bucks Democrats are trying to head off GOP attacks in local elections
A self-described “regular guy from Southampton,” Weintraub never envisioned serving as district attorney. He studied law, he says, out of a desire to help people. After a stint as a prosecutor in his native Bucks, he took jobs in Lehigh and Cape May Counties, but was lured back in 2011 by then-District Attorney David Heckler, who groomed Weintraub as his successor.
Neither could have predicted the sheer number of crimes that drew national attention that Weintraub would be called to prosecute.
Outside of the courtroom, Weintraub said he has pushed local police departments to supply their officers with Narcan and worked with federal authorities to provide resources for narcotics trafficking investigations. And months before the death of George Floyd, he hosted community conversations between residents and police and arranged screenings of the film Walking While Black: L.O.V.E. Is The Answer. The discourse, he said, was frank and sometimes uncomfortable, but necessary.
» READ MORE: Everything you need to know about voting in Pa.’s November 2021 general election
“If I just want to sit back and pat myself on the back and let the cases come, people would say ‘Yeah, you’re doing a fine job,’ but the obligation is greater than that,” he said. “It’s about not only keeping your community safe, but making your community feel safe. And the way that you do that, if you’re truly committed, is to be out there with them.”
That attitude impressed Danny Thomas, the executive director of the Bucks County Peace Center, a nonprofit that works to reduce conflict and violence in communities.
Thomas worked with Weintraub in organizing those meetings with police and community members as a means of “building bridges and working toward justice.”
“Matt is more interested in doing the right thing first, and sometimes that may seem at odds with what people beyond Bucks County think should be Republican or Democrat values,” Thomas said.
Weintraub hopes voters understand that as well.
“If you meet me, if you know me, if you’ve ever heard me speak or, or seen me on or off the job, this is me,” he said. “I don’t know why it is so ingrained in me, but I take this mission to heart.”