Probation for former German prisoner who stole WWII memorabilia
The Morning Call (Allentown, Pa.)
The white-haired Montgomery County man in the navy blue suit who stood Wednesday before Lehigh County Judge Robert L. Steinberg was far from the typical retail theft defendant, the judge noted.
Eugene S. Prokopyschyn, 68, a former Philadelphia police officer — albeit disgraced — who now runs a successful business as an electrician, doesn't have a drug problem and could afford all the items he stole.
And why Prokopyschyn, who grew up in a German prison camp, stole thousands of dollars worth of German World War II military memorabilia at Allentown gun shows is even a mystery to Prokopyschyn himself.
"I'm totally embarrassed by what I've done," Prokopyschyn of Upper Moreland Township told Steinberg.
"It seems you've become fixated on German war memorabilia," the judge said.
"It's definitely not that I can't afford to buy this stuff," Prokopyschyn replied. "It's some sort of compulsion."
Steinberg wound up placing Prokopyschyn on seven years of probation. He must serve the first 90 days in house arrest and pay $10,000 in fines. He also ordered Prokopyschyn to pay the full restitution — $3,150 — on Wednesday, before going home.
During a Feb. 9 show at the Allentown Fairgrounds, Prokopyschyn took a German World War II dagger, an officer's hat, a silverware set and two Word War II helmets valued at more than $1,600, according to court records. Prokopyschyn was caught and arrested that day while trying to get away and the stolen goods were found in his car, police said.
Because of his arrest, police investigated a past theft report from a show Oct. 20 and reviewed surveillance footage. The investigation showed that Prokopyschyn had taken another German World War II helmet, a canteen and artwork, police said. Those items were valued at $2,000, police said.
Prokopyschyn kept the collection at home until it was confiscated by police. He pleaded guilty in July to six counts of felony retail theft.
Psychologists and Prokopyschyn's attorney, John Waldron, believe there is some sort of connection between Prokopyschyn's upbringing in a German "displaced person's camp," but no one's quite sure why that would lead him to steal German military memorabilia.
Waldron said Prokopyschyn's father was a Polish soldier and was captured by the Germans in the 1940s. Waldron said Prokopyschyn was born in a German camp in 1945 and lived there until he was 9.
"He has a lot of anger from his upbringing," Waldron said.
Prokopyschyn's son is a doctor and his daughter is a nurse, Waldron said.
"He's living the American dream in many ways," Steinberg said. "He's come here and succeeded."
Steinberg did note that Prokopyschyn has had run-ins with the law before. The judge said Prokopyschyn, decades ago, was forced to leave the Philadelphia Police Department after being charged with purchasing stolen guns. He also had a sawed-off shotgun in his home, authorities said.
Five members of the Forks of the Delaware Historical Arms Society, which is based in Easton and runs area gun shows, attended the hearing. They successfully petitioned Steinberg to ban Prokopyschyn from appearing at their gun shows.
Steinberg said he considered jail time for Prokopyschyn but decided it's not "warranted at this point." But the judge warned Prokopyschyn that another theft charge and "he'll probably skip over county jail and go right to state prison."