Starr waives prelim hearing

Officer’s bail reduced from $250,000 cash to unsecured bond of same amount

ROARING SPRING — An Altoona police officer accused of padding overtime and stealing grant funds has waived his right to a preliminary hearing.

Matthew Starr, 39, of Altoona appeared briefly before Magisterial District Judge Craig Ormsby on Wednesday — a day before he was scheduled to appear — for a preliminary hearing, so he could waive his charges on to Blair County Court.

Starr was also released from custody on Wednesday following a bail modification hearing where state prosecutors agreed to reducing bail from $250,000 cash to an unsecured bond of the same amount in exchange for Starr waiving his preliminary hearing. Ormsby was informed of the agreement Monday, and because defendants can waive their preliminary hearing any time before the scheduled court appearance, Starr was transported from the Somerset County jail on Wednesday morning.

Starr was wearing the same clothes he was arrested in on May 9 when state police charged him with 10 felony counts and a misdemeanor charge related to alleged schemes by Starr over the past several years to get money for gambling.

Attorney Thomas Hooper, who originally indicated he was not representing Starr when contacted May 9, appeared with his client Wednesday.

Ormsby implemented a list of restrictions on Starr, as recommended by prosecutor Megan V. Madaffari.

Ormsby’s order prohibits Starr from gambling, setting foot in a casino or even going online to place bets. He must also surrender all guns and his passport.

Starr was to immediately report to the Blair County supervised bail program after his release and must report weekly, the judge ordered.

In addition, Starr is subject to random drug and alcohol testing and the costs associated with it.

A sergeant with the Altoona Police Depart­ment, Starr was suspended with pay in late February, and on Friday, his status changed to suspended without pay.

State police started an investigation into Starr after Altoona police Chief Janice Freehling asked them to look into the veteran officer on Feb. 21.

State police allege Starr was a heavy casino gambler and between July 2014 and March 2017 lost about $50,000 at the tables at Rocky Gap Casino in Flintstone, Md.

Starr, who oversaw the department’s bicycle patrol and was its arson investigator, is accused on cashing checks made out to the police department that he solicited from a city fraternal club and a business to buy arson investigation equipment. State police allege Starr also tried to launder money from a local business through a nonprofit to keep for himself and that he turned in bogus time cards that paid him close to $9,000 for hours he didn’t work. His casino players card put him at the tables on many of the dates in question where Starr, who reported only to Freehling, said he was working his regular shift or getting paid overtime.

Starr is also accused of a scheme where he diverted more than $7,000 in city Community Development Block Grant funds into his own pocket and temporarily taking more than $3,000 from a Gofundme he set up for a sick family member of his girlfriend.

Starr is next due in Blair County Court on June 23 for his formal arraignment.