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Orie charges based in part on bad info

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By Bobby Kerlik
Friday, Sept. 2, 2011

The image of state Sen. Jane Orie sitting in a Harrisburg office after midnight gathering documents for her corruption trial is based on investigative paperwork that Republican lawyers now say is inaccurate.

Senate Republican Caucus lawyer Matthew Haverstick wrote in a letter to Allegheny County prosecutors, obtained Thursday by the Tribune-Review, that information Senate Republican lawyers gave them for the Orie investigation contained three errors in dates and times when computer documents were created or scanned.

Prosecutors relied on that information to lodge 16 charges this week against Orie, 49, of McCandless, including perjury, forgery and tampering with evidence.

"We sincerely regret these typographical errors and, upon discovery, we immediately called you in order to have them corrected," Haverstick wrote to Assistant District Attorney Lawrence Claus, lead prosecutor in the case.

According to the affidavit the District Attorney's Office filed on Monday, Orie -- using the login PASEN\jorie -- was in her Senate office at 12:34 a.m. on July 2, 2010, scanning into state computers versions of documents she would submit in her defense. Prosecutors say one such document appears to have been doctored after it was scanned in, even though Orie testified that the document was created in 2006.

The time should have said 12:34 p.m., Haverstick wrote.

Mike Manko, a spokesman for District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr., said the misinformation state lawyers supplied would "have no bearing on the prosecution in this case."

But Orie's attorney, William Costopoulos, said that misinformation was damaging.

"It got my attention because it said the senator was in the Capitol Building at the midnight hour," Costopoulos said. "It was an inaccurate and misleading representation that was made to the president judge of Allegheny County when she authorized the arrest warrant. It may have been innocent because they relied on a typographical error, but the fact remains, it was an error."

Several newspapers and television stations reported that false detail, Costopoulos said. "Many of her supporters were taken aback by the media stories resulting from the typographical error, and it has subjected her to additional stress and anguish she does not deserve."

Prosecutors relied on Senate Republican Caucus information instead of examining raw data, Manko said, because they are following a process that a judge established.

This week's charges were filed nearly six months after Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey Manning declared a mistrial in the original case against Orie, after finding that Costopoulos submitted forged documents as evidence. The new charges, which stem from the mistrial, include five felony counts of perjury and six counts of tampering with evidence, two counts of forgery and several other state election code violations, all misdemeanors, according to court papers.

In addition, Orie and her sister, Janine Orie, 57, face retrial on charges that they ordered the senator's staff to perform campaign work on state time for Jane Orie's campaign and that of their sister, Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin. Janine Orie, who worked in Melvin's office, was not charged in the new case. Melvin has not been charged.

The other errors: a document was created at 12:33 p.m. and not 11:34 a.m.; and a folder was created on June 17, 2010, not 2020. Prosecutors said Orie staffers Donna Kriner and Bonnie Schultz helped scan documents for Orie's defense on legislative time.

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