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Three hard drives used by Sen. Jane Orie seized by authorities

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By Bobby Kerlik
Saturday, Oct. 22, 2011
 

State police and an Allegheny County detective investigating state Sen. Jane Orie followed their corruption case to Harrisburg on Friday and seized three computer hard drives personally used by the senator, according to court documents.

One hard drive was part of a desktop computer used by Orie in her Harrisburg office, another from a desktop computer used in her North Hills office and the third from a laptop issued by the Senate to Orie, according to a state police search warrant approved by Dauphin County Common Pleas Judge Richard Lewis.

"The fact that they've gotten warrants and served them shows that they're following the trail wherever it leads them," said University of Pittsburgh law professor David Harris. "Searching the information system of another branch of government is no small thing."

Senate Republican Caucus attorneys collected the three computers earlier this month and stored them in a Senate computer office in the North Office Building until they were seized yesterday.

"As part of a prearranged and cooperative effort ... the Senate Republican Caucus provided the Allegheny County District Attorney's Office certain requested computer data. The caucus has been, and will continue to be, fully cooperative with the District Attorney's Office, but will not further discuss the nature of the information provided because the investigation is ongoing," caucus attorney Matthew Haverstick said in a statement.

A spokesman for District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. declined to comment. Orie's chief counsel, Michael Sarfert, referred calls to her defense attorney, William Costopoulos, who did not return a call for comment.

According to the search warrant, investigators are looking for clues that Orie -- or someone using her PASEN/jorie login -- tampered with evidence in the case, including cut-and-pasted signatures on documents, some of which led to Orie's mistrial in March. Prosecutors also are searching for documents used during her trial that were scanned into the Senate computer system and then deleted or changed after prosecutors subpoenaed them in April.

Orie, 49, a McCandless Republican, is scheduled for trial in February before Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey Manning on charges that she and sister Janine Orie, 57, of McCandless ordered 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.

Orie's first trial ended in a mistrial in March when Manning ruled defense attorneys introduced doctored documents as evidence. Zappala in August charged Orie with 16 new counts, including forgery and perjury.

Republican political leaders said they stand behind Orie.

"Nothing has changed. Sen. Orie is presumed innocent until proven otherwise, and we stand behind her," said Erik Arneson, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Delaware.

Steve Miskin, a spokesman for the House Republican Caucus and House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Bradford Woods, said they were also behind Orie.

"She is (Turzai's) senator," Miskin said. "Things are going to run their course, and we hope justice prevails."

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