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Fayette County DA wants investigation of alleged voter fraud

| Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2012, 12:02 a.m.

Fayette County's district attorney wants to convene an investigating grand jury to examine allegations of voter fraud involving absentee ballots, signatures on nominating petitions, copper-wire thefts and other criminal activities, according to an application filed on Monday.

Jack Heneks filed the application with the courts seeking to empanel a countywide investigating grand jury. He will formally present the application to President Judge Gerald R. Solomon Tuesday during motions court.

Heneks declined to comment on the application.

In the application, Heneks indicates he wants to use a grand jury to look into crimes ranging from unsolved homicides and drug activity to election fraud involving absentee ballots in Bullskin Township and signatures contained on the nominating petition for Michael Cavanagh, a failed candidate for state representative.

Cavanagh, of Uniontown, tried in the spring to run against state Rep. Tim Mahoney of South Union in the 51st District, but the courts struck his name from the ballot because of a criminal conviction for insurance fraud.

Cavanagh declined comment because he has not seen Heneks' application. Earlier this year, after an Election Board hearing, Cavanagh denied having “ever frauded any signature on any petition in my life.”

In Bullskin, Heneks wants a grand jury to investigate alleged “violations of the Election Code and/or Criminal Code” during the November 2011 election, “chiefly regarding absentee ballots.”

Heneks noted in the application that he and state police began looking into the Bullskin allegations “after receiving complaints after the election.”

Other areas Heneks cited in the application include Internet fraud, child pornography, drug crimes and thefts of copper wire belonging to Verizon.

The copper wire thefts began in 2007 and were concentrated in German, Georges, Springhill and Nicholson townships. Thieves cut the wire from telephone poles, according to the application.

The thefts caused service outages that affected mine safety and disrupted lock and dam operations on the Monongahela River, Heneks wrote. Suspects were identified, but none were charged “due to lack of credible and concrete evidence,” according to the application.

Some people were successfully prosecuted in 2010, but Heneks wrote that the thefts are ongoing, with thieves targeting overheard wires in Ohiopyle and Wharton, North, South and Stewart townships.

Suspects climb telephone poles or use ropes to pull down the wires and cut them, according to the application. They burn off the plastic sheathing “in burn piles located across the county as well as in West Virginia,” Heneks wrote, then sell the copper to scrap yards.

Police believe the rise in copper thefts and other raw materials are attributable “in large part to the Chinese preparation for the 2008 Olympics as well as Iraq and Afghanistan wars.” Greater demand for the raw materials increased their value, according to the application.

Police believe money from the copper-wire thefts is being used to fund other criminal activities, including illegal drugs and thefts of ATVs, autos and trucks, according to the application.

“From investigation, the money generated by these thefts is being used to engage in drug possession and distribution, creating the specter of multiple conspiracies and corrupt organizations,” Heneks wrote.

Other areas the jury might be asked to investigate are Internet crimes, including child pornography, burglaries, robberies and thefts, Heneks wrote in the application.

If empaneled, an investigating grand jury would meet at least twice monthly for a period of 18 months, according to the application. It would have the power to subpoena witnesses to appear and to require the witnesses to produce “documents, records and other evidence” needed for police investigations.

Heneks wrote that absent the powers of a grand jury, witnesses in the various investigations have refused to cooperate.

An investigating grand jury meets in secret but unlike an indicting grand jury, it can only recommend that charges be filed.

Fayette County most recently convened a grand jury in the 1990s to investigate voter fraud.

According to the application, Solomon, in his role as president judge, has 10 days to decide whether to grant the request for the grand jury.

Liz Zemba is a reporter for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-601-2166 or lzemba@tribweb.com.

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