After months of protesting her innocence, a former Pennsylvania Liquor Control Enforcement officer accused of extortion abruptly ended her federal trial Thursday with a guilty plea.
Gina Marie Kepler, 35, tearfully admitted using her position at the bureau, which is run by the state police, to scam about $13,000 in cash from nine bar owners in Montgomery and Bucks Counties.
The decision came after Assistant U.S. Attorney Arlene D. Fisk completed her case, which followed three days of documentation and witnesses, including representatives of the nine bars.
Then Kepler, who had been expected to testify, caucused with her attorney, William R. Spade Jr., for about half an hour. After the plea was announced, the judge dismissed the jury of eight men and four women. "She listened to the evidence and decided to accept responsibility," Spade explained after the plea. "She's sorry."
Kepler had no comment as she rapidly left the courthouse. Fisk said she was pleased with the outcome.
"The resolution is the right one," she said. "She was guilty of all of those offenses."
Kepler's duties while a liquor enforcement officer included inspecting businesses, conducting investigations into alleged liquor-law violations, and issuing citations. Bar owners described various ways Kepler deprived them of money, such as promising to purchase electronic ID scanners or detailing sob stories for loans that went unpaid.
State Police Cpl. Gregg J. Kravitsky, who heads the Bureau of Criminal Investigation in Bensalem, applauded the work of Trooper Glenn D. Hopey and FBI agent Stephen R. Gray, who were assigned to the case, and said he hoped Kepler's prosecution would show citizens that corruption will not be tolerated.
"We're more outraged than members of the public when one of our own commits crimes," Kravitsky said.
The judge asked Kepler where she would be living, and she responded that she would live with a sister in Sewell. "It's unclear where the defendant is welcome or not," said Fisk.
U.S. District Judge Stewart Dalzell said a report indicated Kepler had complied with bail conditions, which would remain the same. He ordered a presentence investigation and scheduled sentencing for Sept. 15. Kepler faces a maximum possible sentence of 180 years and $2.25 million in fines.