Forgery of Orie papers confirmed

| Wednesday, July 6, 2011

A new Secret Service report confirms that defense documents introduced in the aborted criminal trial of state Sen. Jane Orie show evidence of forgery.

And Allegheny County prosecutors want a court hearing to prove they didn't do it.

Assistant District Attorney Lawrence Claus wants the hearing to "introduce testimony and evidence to refute any insinuation" that prosecutors doctored the documents, he stated in a recent court filing. Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey Manning declared a mistrial in March after ruling two defense exhibits appeared to be forged.

A supplemental Secret Service report dated June 10 states three documents related to the Orie case show evidence of fake signatures. The report was part of the prosecutors' request for a hearing.

Orie, 49, a McCandless Republican, and her sister Janine Orie, 56, also of McCandless, are accused of ordering the senator's staff to perform political work on state time. Janine Orie worked as an aide to state Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin, another sister who is not charged with wrongdoing. A retrial is scheduled for October.

The senator's attorney, William Costopoulos, declined to comment, citing a gag order. Janine Orie's attorney, James DePasquale, said the finding by the Secret Service is not a surprise.

"It says what we already know anyway -- there's a super-imposed signature. Who did it and why they did it remains unanswered," DePasquale said. "What the DA's office is trying to do is make it crystal clear they couldn't have done it."

The District Attorney's Office discovered a third suspicious document after the trial ended, which the Secret Service report later confirmed as a forgery, Claus' motion states.

Mike Manko, spokesman for District Attorney Stephen Zappala Jr., declined to comment.

A call to the Secret Service was not returned.

During the highly publicized trial, Claus blamed the forgeries on Orie's defense team. Orie's brother, attorney Jack Orie, later blamed prosecutors.

Orie's attorneys are seeking to block a retrial on double jeopardy grounds. Last month, the state Supreme Court ordered the Superior Court to consider her double jeopardy claims. The Constitution prohibits criminal defendants from being tried twice for the same crime.

University of Pittsburgh law professor John Burkoff, who is not affiliated with the case, said Claus' filing serves at least two purposes.

"They're trying to get this report to be a part of the record for the appellate courts to consider with her double jeopardy claim, and the judge could refer to this in his opinion," Burkoff said. "The prosecution also wants to show in the court of public opinion that they didn't do anything wrong. Just by making the filing creates a vehicle to get the report to the public."

A Secret Service examination of two documents in April yielded inconclusive results. The report attempted to verify dates through ink analysis of handwritten notes by Orie on the documents. That report drew no conclusion regarding authenticity of any of the inked documents, other than to say the inks Orie used were commercially available at the time the notes were written.

The new report states that three Orie documents -- two of which Orie's attorney introduced at trial -- contain evidence of fraud in the signature of Jamie Pavlot, Orie's chief of staff. Pavlot was a key prosecution witness.

Prosecutors contend someone pasted Pavlot's signature onto a document to make it appear as if Pavlot acknowledged that she was responsible for oversight of the office. Another Pavlot signature appears to be pasted crookedly on a signature line.

"In particular, the inserted signature (from one document) directly overlays the printed signature found (on another document)," the Secret Service report states.

Claus' filing cites the third forged document that prosecutors found while investigating. He contends it proves that prosecutors did not doctor anything because the document was not in the district attorney's possession.

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