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Ex-coroner jailed over violating probation

Former Niagara County Coroner Steven A. Gerhardt was sentenced Friday to 30 days in jail for violating the terms of his probation in a funeral home scam.
Gerhardt, 38, who now lives in Florida, was tagged with the violation for moving there without permission from his probation officer.

Defense attorney Leonard G. Tilney Jr. said Gerhardt moved in August and admitted to his probation officer Nov. 17 that he was only returning to the area to check in with her.

Gerhardt admitted the violation in a brief appearance before Niagara County Judge Sara Sheldon Sperrazza and opted for immediate sentencing. He could have received up to a year behind bars.

In giving him the 30-day sentence, Sperrazza said prosecutors have told her that Gerhardt is assisting them in an investigation into a 1993 murder and also noted that he spent two months in Louisiana with a Department of Homeland Security mortuary unit, recovering and identifying bodies after Hurricane Katrina.

"On the other side of the coin, this is a man who continues to live this slippery-slope, deceptive approach to life. It's like he hasn't learned anything from this experience," Sperrazza said.

Gerhardt, who made no comment, tearfully embraced his parents before being handcuffed and led off to the county jail.

The former Cambria Democrat, who was elected District 4 coroner in 1991 and served 12 years, also was the former owner of Gaul Funeral Home in Lockport.
He was charged for pocketing $84,000 that 16 Gaul customers advanced for prepaid funerals in the 1990s. In 2004, he was placed on three years' probation after pleading guilty to two misdemeanors, petit larceny and second-degree falsifying business records.

Gerhardt paid restitution and completed 50 hours each in the county work program and in community service.
In other court action Friday, a Hartland man pleaded not guilty to an eight-count indictment charging him with allegedly shooting two men while trying to rob a Lockport gas station Dec. 21.

Steven H. Smith, 44, of Checkered Tavern Road, is charged with two counts each of first-degree robbery and first- and second-degree assault, and single counts of second-degree criminal possession of a weapon and first-degree criminal use of a firearm.
Smith is accused of entering the Sunoco station at South Transit and High streets, pulling a handgun and demanding money.

The owner, Ali Sharaky, 55, grabbed the robber from behind and wrestled with him as store clerk Daniel Heigl, 22, tried to help. Sharaky was shot twice, in the arm and shoulder, and Heigl was shot once in the arm. Smith fled the scene in a vehicle and was arrested about an hour later.
Meanwhile, Sperrazza imposed a 10-year prison term on Terrance A. Elder, 27, of 22nd Street, Niagara Falls, for his role in the Oct. 17 armed robbery of Lockport Apothecary on Lincoln Avenue. Three men pleaded guilty in the theft of cash and drugs.
Elder and Tommy R. King II, 27, of Hyde Park Boulevard, Niagara Falls, admitted to attempted first-degree robbery, while Terry W. Menchaca Jr., 23, of Grant Street, Lockport, admitted to second-degree grand larceny.


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