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Orie's ex-chief of staff deals with trial fallout

| Monday, Dec. 12, 2011
The door to the office of state Sen. Jane Orie in the Cranberry municipal building. Ex-chief of staff Jamie Pavlot works in the Republican's satellite office there after transferring from the district office in McCandless.
The door to the office of state Sen. Jane Orie in the Cranberry municipal building. Ex-chief of staff Jamie Pavlot works in the Republican's satellite office there after transferring from the district office in McCandless.

Since prosecutors charged her boss with corruption, Jamie Pavlot's life appears to have upended.

No longer chief of staff for Republican state Sen. Jane Orie, Pavlot transferred from the district office in McCandless to a satellite office in Cranberry, where she quietly comes and goes among employees in the community's municipal building.

It wasn't always like this for Pavlot, 57, of McCandless, Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr.'s chief witness for Orie's February retrial. She declined to talk for this story.

Constituents, political insiders and former co-workers said Pavlot, who spent a dozen years beside the four-term senator, was a woman whom Orie trusted like a family member.

"Jamie was very close to Jane. She was so loyal," said Republican committeewoman Louise Bradley, 58, of McCandless, who worked on Orie's 1996 campaign for the state House of Representatives.

"Jamie would have taken a bullet for Jane. She would have done anything for Jane, except go to jail. Jamie just drew the line there."

Zappala accuses Orie, 49, and her sister Janine Orie, 56, of using the senator's state-paid staff to perform campaign work for a third sister, Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin, who is not charged with wrongdoing. The senator also is charged with using her staff for her political benefit. She and Janine Orie have pleaded not guilty.

Two years ago this week, agents from Zappala's office and state police raided Orie's office on McKnight Road, seizing computers and the computer server.

Orie did not return calls seeking comment for this story. Michael Sarfert, her chief counsel, referred questions to her defense attorney, William Costopoulos, who did not return calls.

Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey A. Manning imposed a gag order in the case. He declared a mistrial during jury deliberations in March after prosecutors presented evidence that Pavlot's signature was forged on two documents the defense presented during a first trial.

Prosecutors contend someone cut and pasted Pavlot's signature onto a document to make it appear that she acknowledged she was responsible for office oversight. In August, prosecutors charged Orie with felony perjury, tampering with evidence, forgery and obstruction.

In September, the state Supreme Court said it would not consider Orie's appeal that a retrial constitutes double jeopardy.

Senator's gatekeeper

Born in 1954 in Arnold, Pavlot is the younger of two daughters of Jim and Bernadine Beuth. Jim Beuth, an accountant at Union Spring Manufacturing, died in 2005. Bernadine Beuth, who worked in various jobs, including as a school crossing guard and as a hostess at Eat 'n Park before becoming a licensed beautician, died in 2009.

Pavlot, a 1972 graduate of Valley High School in the New Kensington-Arnold School District, lives in a two-story brick townhouse in a quiet neighborhood off West Ingomar Road, less than five miles from Orie.

When she divorced her second husband, Stephen Pavlot, in 2008, her lawyer was Orie's brother, John R. "Jack" Orie Jr. Her daughter, Ashley Pavlot, is a graduate student at Chatham University. Stephen Pavlot could not be reached for comment.

Pavlot's sister, Bonnie Guthrie of Port Tobacco, Md., declined to comment, expressing suspicion that a reporter could spy for the defense.

"This certainly would make a wonderful story, but at this point in time I cannot comment," said Guthrie, 61. "The whole thing is so twisted."

Those who spent time in Orie's office over the years described Pavlot as the senator's gatekeeper -- a protector whose word was as good as the senator's.

"All the years I was active, I always went though Jamie for everything," said Republican committeewoman Cindy Kirk, 54, of McCandless. "People were led to believe the senator didn't want to talk to you. Jamie was the one you talked to because she was accessible. I got the impression she was like another sister."

In addition to Jane, Janine and Jack of McCandless and Joan of Marshall, the connected and powerful Orie family includes sister Joy Orie of Bellevue and brothers James, an attorney from Beaver, pediatric cardiologist Joseph of Buffalo, and Jerome of Franklin Park, a deputy attorney in the state Attorney General's Insurance Fraud Section. A fourth sister, Judith, a cardiologist, died last month. The siblings are the children of Dr. John R. of McCandless and the late Jean Orie.

Though Pavlot generally shied away from attention, she attended black-tie functions, fundraisers and community events on her boss' behalf.

"If you needed something, you called Jamie," said North Allegheny School District board member Maureen Grosheider of Marshall.

Lou Nudi, a member of the North Hills school board and the Ross Township Republican Committee, said Pavlot was a "very good assistant" who helped him get his notary license. He called Pavlot to request Orie's attendance at Republican events, and both women generally would attend, Nudi said.

Lost title, kept salary

Pavlot became involved in the Orie corruption case in November 2009 when Jennifer Rioja, an intern in the office, resigned and contacted Zappala's office to report another intern was performing work for Melvin's state Supreme Court campaign. Pavlot, under Orie's direction, led an unsuccessful attempt to cover up the political activity, according to court records and her trial testimony.

Orie stripped Pavlot of her title in May 2010, though Pavlot kept her nearly $80,000 annual salary. Pavlot testified under immunity and remains eligible for a state pension.

A number of the senator's loyal supporters blame Pavlot, saying she was responsible for office activities and personnel.

"She was paid to know something," Kirk said. "Either she wasn't doing her job right or (she was) responsible for the day-to-day (in the office)."

Matt Campion, chief of staff for Sen. John Pippy, R-Moon, said the position generally includes administrative and legislative duties such as ensuring that other employees do their jobs, monitoring bills in which the senator has expressed interest and learning what legislation interests constituents.

"But it's the member that decides the boundaries of each job description," Campion said.

Constituents who deal with Orie's offices said they notice few changes in the way staffers handle business. Pavlot's former co-workers declined comment.

Municipal officials in Orie's district, which covers most of the North Hills through southern Butler County, said the senator's aides seek their input on legislation Orie drafts and apprise them of state projects in their communities. Orie's staff meets with municipal officials and school administrators to gauge their interest in bills that might affect them.

Cranberry Manager Jerry Andree, who has an office down the hall from Orie's satellite office, said the trial "has been the talk of the town, but it hasn't changed my relationship with her staff."

"Business goes on," he said. "There's still work to do."

'It was a shunning'

People who have testified against their bosses say Pavlot could experience mental torment.

"It is so difficult," said Jane Turner, a former 25-year FBI agent who in 1999 testified that her bosses failed to investigate and prosecute crimes against children in Minot, N.D. "My family was the FBI. When my family shut me out and treated me as a pariah, it was a shunning."

Turner worked for the agency while her lawsuit made its way through court; the FBI transferred her to Minneapolis. There managers gave her a desk and chair but no work, she said.

"They effectively muzzled me," said Turner, 60, who moved to Bloomington, Minn., and works with the nonprofit National Whistleblower's Center, which helps employees come forward with evidence of fraud or wrongdoing.

"No one would talk to me. When I walked up to people, they looked like a scared rabbit trying to figure out how to get away from me," she recalled. "My supervisors would cross the other side of the room when I got in."

Bradley speculated that Pavlot's work atmosphere is "a living hell," but said a single mother with a daughter in college probably cannot risk quitting to find another job paying that amount.

"Jobs are hard to come by, and she's got to feed her family," Bradley said.

More than a decade later, Turner holds out hope that someone from the FBI eventually will tell her that she did the right thing. She said Pavlot might want the same outcome.

"You just want someone to say you did good. It was the FBI. We're supposed to be held to a higher standard."

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