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Former state Sen. Orie to learn fate on prison

| Sunday, June 3, 2012, 7:48 p.m.
When former state Sen. Jane Orie appears for sentencing Monday in an Allegheny County courtroom, it will end an ugly 2 1/2 year saga that could land the former Senate majority whip in a prison cell facing a large restitution bill. Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review

When former state Sen. Jane Orie appears for sentencing Monday in an Allegheny County courtroom, it will end an ugly 2 12 year saga that could land the former Senate majority whip in a prison cell facing a large restitution bill.

Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey A. Manning is scheduled to sentence Orie, 50, of McCandless on her 14 convictions, including five felony counts, for using her taxpayer-funded staff to do campaign work and introducing forged documents as evidence in her first trial.

"I think she is going to get time. The one thing that sets this apart - the cover-up and the fraud in the documents," said University of Pittsburgh law professor David Harris. "Any judge I have ever met takes a conviction for these types of things seriously. It tends to make a sentence worse."

Prosecutors have not asked for a specific sentence in court filings thus far. Assistant District Attorney Lawrence Claus wrote that standard guidelines call for a minimum sentence stretching from probation to nearly eight years in prison.

Claus has said that Orie, a Republican, could be on the hook for more than $2 million in restitution to cover her theft convictions and the taxpayer-funded legal bills for representation of the Republican caucus during the case.

Orie's attorney William Costopoulos countered in court filings that the restitution could be $25,000 and denied that Orie should be responsible for caucus legal bills. He has not addressed the possibility of incarceration.

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

Zappala's office started investigating Orie after an intern complained to authorities about politicking in the office just days before Orie's sister, Joan Orie Melvin, was elected to the state Supreme Court in November 2009. Melvin, 56, of Marshall, whom Zappala charged last month, faces a preliminary hearing Friday on accusations she used her judicial staff for campaign work.

A third sister, Janine Orie, 57, who worked as an aid to Melvin, is awaiting trial.

The investigation sparked allegations from the Orie family of a political prosecution by Zappala, which he denies. The former senator was charged in April 2010, and she was convicted in March after a second trial. Manning declared a mistrial after finding the defense introduced forged documents as evidence.

If the judge sends Orie to prison, she would first head to SCI-Muncy in Lycoming County for processing. Muncy is one of two women's prisons in the state and is the processing center for female inmates.

Inmates there are housed in concrete cells, which have a large metal door with thick glass windows on one side, said Troy Edwards, a spokesman for Muncy.

Inside most of the cells are a desk, a chair, a small cabinet for clothes and bunkbeds - all made of steel and bolted to the floor. Wakeup is at 6 a.m., and lights are out at 9 p.m., Edwards said.

"It's a very controlled environment. They're watched closely because it's a traumatic event, especially for people when it's their first time," Edwards said.

From there, inmates who qualify go to SCI-Cambridge Springs in Crawford County, which generally houses lower-risk inmates. That prison was previously a college, so many of the inmates live in buildings that were college dormitories, Edwards said.

Former Pittsburgh City Councilwoman Twanda Carlisle served most of her year of incarceration at Cambridge Springs for her theft conviction.

"If it's similar to Ms. Carlisle, she'll probably end up at Cambridge Springs," Edwards said. "It's jail, but it's a pleasant atmosphere for prison."

At Cambridge Springs, inmates are assigned jobs that range from the education department to librarian to carpentry. Two work crews can leave the prison under supervision to pick up litter or paint public buildings, said Richard Learn, who oversees treatment programs there.

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