Defense attorney disputes forgery charges as case proceeds against Gary Van Horn

February 12, 2020

The case involving the former leader of a Pittsburgh LGBTQ advocacy group accused of billing himself as an emergency responder and providing forged documents to authorities will proceed to Allegheny County Common Pleas court, a district judge ruled Wednesday.

Gary Van Horn’s attorney said his client didn’t commit a crime because he didn’t forge the documents.

“We are not saying for one moment that a crime was not committed in some fashion or way. But what we are saying is my client did not do it,” attorney Phil DiLucente said. “Real simply, it was very clear that my client Gary Van Horn never forged any document, he was simply a recipient.”

Van Horn was a member of the Allegheny County Sheriff’s Office’s Uniformed Reserve Division and worked hundreds of hours at events in the county, according to DiLucente. He resigned in January as board president of the Delta Foundation of Pittsburgh. The group advocates for the city’s LGBT community and plans Pittsburgh Pride events each year.

DiLucente defended his client’s actions after a 90-minute hearing before District Judge Kevin Cooper in Pittsburgh Municipal Court. Cooper found there was enough evidence for the 10 charges to be heard in Common Pleas Court.

Three felony forgery charges filed against Van Horn, 40, of Pittsburgh’s Shadyside neighborhood, are the ones DiLucente and co-counsel Nicole Nino focused on during the hearing. Pittsburgh police officers and a state police trooper testified about two 2019 incidents involving a Ford Explorer owned by Van Horn that’s equipped with what appeared to be emergency lighting and the four documents Van Horn provided to authorities that are alleged to be forgeries.

On April 6, Pittsburgh police Officer Benjamin Olsen questioned why the truck was illegally parked on South Aiken Avenue near Van Horn’s home and why Van Horn was working traffic control at an intersection as fire officials responded to a nearby call.

Olsen testified that Van Horn went to his house to get documents to show the vehicle was authorized to have the lighting, but they were for another vehicle. The battalion commander who was in charge of the fire scene also told Olsen that he did not authorize Van Horn to work traffic control, Olsen testified.

The second incident happened Sept. 27 on Liberty Avenue in Downtown, where a vehicle that appeared to be the same SUV was reported as suspicious by two women who were protesting outside Planned Parenthood.

The women felt threatened by the way the vehicle turned in front of them and it had emergency lights on when it did so, according to Pittsburgh police Sgt. Richard Zett.

Pittsburgh police Sgt. Richard Zett reviewed the city’s surveillance camera footage during the time of the incident and was able to watch what happened. He testified that he couldn’t confirm from the video that it was Van Horn’s vehicle or that he was driving it.

Zett’s boss, Zone 2 Commander Reyne Kacsuta, called Van Horn after she heard from several people that the vehicle in question was likely his. Van Horn told her it was, Kacsuta testified.

Van Horn told her he wasn’t driving the vehicle at the time, she testified.

Van Horn also texted Kacsuta pictures of four documents that show he was authorized to have the lighting.

Allegheny County Sheriff William Mullen told state police investigator Trooper Thomas Kress that he did not authorize Van Horn to get emergency plates and didn’t sign the letters that were presented by Van Horn.

Prosecutors presented no evidence that shows his client forged Mullen’s signature, DiLucente said.

They also didn’t dispute that Van Horn was a reserve sheriff’s deputy, he said.

DiLucente said he looks forward to arguing the case in court.