A former Erie TV news personality who has reported on numerous stories during her young career has been sentenced to probation for falsely reporting to police that she was a stalking victim.
Haley E. Potter, 25, who was charged in July 2022, when she worked for WICU-TV’s Erie News Now, was ordered on Tuesday to serve two years of probation and 100 hours of community service.
Potter, who now lives in Tennessee, received the sentence immediately after she pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor count of making a false report to police and two other misdemeanor counts before Judge John J. Mead in Erie County Common Pleas Court.
The District Attorney’s Office and the defense recommended the sentence of probation, based on Potter’s lack of prior criminal record. The District Attorney’s Office dropped nine misdemeanor counts as part of the plea deal.
The sentence of probation was in the standard range of the state sentencing guidelines for the crimes, given Potter’s lack of a prior record, according to statements in court. She faced a maximum possible sentence of 12 years in state prison and a $25,000 fine.
Mead agreed that probation was an appropriate sentence, but he also chastised Potter for falsely telling state police that she was a stalking victim — an allegation that took troopers three months to determine was unfounded.
“The police have a very important job in this community,” Mead told Potter. “We don’t need to waste their time chasing crimes that are not valid.”
Potter did not address Mead at the sentencing. Her lawyer, Michael DeRiso, of Pittsburgh, briefly remarked in court that Potter had no prior record and that she has strong family support. No one else spoke on Potter’s behalf, though her parents were in the courtroom.
The prosecutor, Robert Ferguson, an assistant district attorney, cited Potter’s lack of a prior record. He also said Potter “wasted three months” of state police’s time with her false report. He said the false report led police to investigate two people on the stalking claims, and that those two people turned out to be innocent.
“It could have gone much worse for them,” Ferguson told Mead.
Charges stemmed from a series of claims of stalking
Potter recently moved to Nashville, DeRiso said in court. She is a story coordinator for Good News Magazine, part of the Tennessee-based Exchange Media Group, according to the magazine’s website and her Facebook post. Potter had been free on a recognizance bond while her criminal case was pending in Erie County.
Under the terms of the sentence, Potter must report to probation officials in Erie County by telephone or computer. Mead also ordered her to undergo a mental health evaluation.
Potter started in 2020 at Erie News Now, where she worked as a reporter, anchor and producer. The station’s website listed her as a member of its news team until several months ago. Potter, a native of Leechburg, northeast of Pittsburgh, went to Erie News Now soon after she graduated from Slippery Rock University in June 2020.
State police charged Potter on July 11, 2022. She was accused of filing a false complaint with state police in early April 2022, claiming that a person began stalking her on Feb. 20 of that year. She alleged the stalking occurred via text messages that described her whereabouts and became sexual in nature.
According to probable cause affidavit attached to Potter’s criminal complaint, she also told police that someone got into her apartment complex in Harborcreek Township in March 2022 and put a note under her door, which read, “Welcome home, Haley,” after she had been away for a week; that someone hacked her social media accounts and used them to send a sexually explicit message to her boyfriend on his Instagram account in April 2022; that someone anonymously sent her flowers with the message, “Love watching you, You are sunshine!” in June 2022: and that someone used her debit card to book a hotel room in Erie in late June 2022. The room went unclaimed.
Potter also said a man sent her a photo of her, according to the affidavit.
After executing a number of search warrants in the investigation, state police determined that Potter’s debit card was used to send the flowers to her, and that the message sent to her boyfriend’s Instagram account came from her cellphone, according to the affidavit and testimony at her preliminary hearing, in August 2022. Potter also contacted PNC Bank to report fraudulent use of her debit card, according to the affidavit. The bank restored $414.61 to her account.
Under questioning, Potter confessed to sending the messages to herself, according to police testimony at the preliminary hearing. According to the affidavit of probable cause, Potter on July 8, 2022, “admitted to fabricating the stalker and being responsible for all of the messages/phone calls and fraudulent activity. The defendant misled the Pennsylvania State Police over the course of a three month investigation which wasted taxpayer resources and manpower.” The police said they examined Potter’s cellphone as part of the probe.
Potter pleaded guilty to filing a false report to law enforcement as a second-degree misdemeanor and the first-degree misdemeanors of theft by unlawful taking and identity theft. The theft charge pertained to the $414.61 that PNC Bank restored to Potter’s account. The identify theft charge pertained to Potter using the name, Social Security and date of birth of another person to send messages that she said showed someone was stalking her, according to court records.
Mead sentenced Potter to two years of probation on each of the three counts which she pleaded guilty. But he ran the sentences concurrent to each other, for a total penalty of two years of probation.
Felony charges dismissed at preliminary hearing
Police originally charged Potter with 17 counts. They were 13 misdemeanors and four felonies — two related to forgery and two related to criminal use of a cellphone. Harborcreek District Judge Lisa Ferrick dismissed the four felonies and one misdemeanor count of access device fraud at Potter’s preliminary hearing, in August 2022.
DeRiso, her lawyer, successfully argued for the dismissal of the four charges due to lack of evidence.
The ruling at the preliminary hearing left Potter charged with 12 misdemeanors, including those alleging false reports, identity theft, receiving stolen property, tampering with evidence and disorderly conduct. The defense and prosecution for months negotiated the plea deal that ended with her sentence to the three misdemeanors.
As part of her sentence, Potter must repay the the $414.61 to PNC Bank. She will also get her cellphone back.
Charges filed: Erie news anchor charged with fabricating stalking threat, police say
Preliminary hearing: Felony charges dropped against Erie TV anchor accused of fabricating claims of stalker
Plea talks: Court records show Erie TV anchor near plea deal on charges she faked stalking threat
Contact Ed Palattella at email@example.com. Follow him on X @ETNpalattella.
This article originally appeared on Erie Times-News: Ex-Erie TV news personality sentenced for making fake stalking claim