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SEX CASE SUIT SETTLED FOR $100,000

A Niagara County Legislature committee voted Tuesday to pay $100,000 in an out-of-court settlement to a woman who said a sheriff's deputy forced her to perform sex acts three times, once at gunpoint.

Darcy Berasi, now 46, was living in the Town of Lockport in 2000, when the alleged incidents with then-Deputy Donald H. Piedmont occurred in her home.

In February 2002, a Niagara County Court jury acquitted Piedmont on two of eight counts; a deadlocked jury was declared on the other charges.

Three months later, Piedmont pleaded guilty to harassment and aggravated harassment. Judge Sara Sheldon Sperrazza sentenced him to 32 days in the county work program and a $250 fine.

Later in 2002, Berasi sued Piedmont, the county, Sheriff Thomas A. Beilein and the Sheriff's Department for a total of at least $6.25 million.

Piedmont's attorney, Jon L. Wilson of Lockport, said the suit against the county and its agencies and officials was separate from the one against Piedmont.

The latter has not been settled, and Wilson said he took no role in the negotiations between Berasi and the county. Asked when the case is going to trial, Wilson answered, "We're a long way from that."

County Attorney Claude A. Joerg said he recommended the settlement to the Legislature's Administration Committee because $100,000 would be the same as the county's estimated cost to hire outside lawyers to try the case.

The full Legislature will vote on the payment next Wednesday.

The suit alleged that Beilein kept Piedmont on the job even though he knew of prior incidents of sexual misconduct by the deputy. Prosecutors tried to introduce that evidence at Piedmont's trial, but Sperrazza wouldn't let them.

Piedmont retired from the Sheriff's Department in April 2001 after 25 years. He was also mayor of Middleport from 1995 to 2001.

Piedmont, 49, hung up on a reporter who called him seeking comment Tuesday. Beilein and Berasi could not be reached, and Berasi's lawyer, Andrew P. Fleming of Hamburg, refused to comment.

e-mail: tprohaska@buffnews.com

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