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DA: Orie files killed by someone in GOP Senate

| Thursday, Sept. 29, 2011

Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. on Wednesday leveled more accusations involving the investigation of state Sen. Jane Orie, saying someone with Senate Republicans deleted computer files that could be evidence in the case.

His comments were made as the state Supreme Court yesterday declined to hear an appeal by Orie, R-McCandless, that asked the justices to bar prosecutors from trying her a second time because it would be double jeopardy.

Zappala, a Democrat, said detectives from his office and the state police are investigating what happened to at least five computer files containing documents related to Orie's case. Attorneys for Senate Republicans told his investigators a few days ago that files are missing, he said.

His office might issue 15 to 20 subpoenas for Orie staffers and Senate Republican Caucus staffers who had access to Senate computer files, he said, noting technicians likely can retrieve the missing files from backup systems.

"Someone started deleting these documents about two weeks after the trial," Zappala said. "We were notified by attorneys for the Senate caucus that documents were missing. We're done playing with these guys."

Conrad O'Brien, the Philadelphia law firm that represents Senate Republicans, released a statement saying the caucus "has gone to great lengths and expended significant resources to preserve every document relevant to this case."

The firm said it provided Zappala's office with tens of thousands of documents that investigators requested -- even some on Tuesday -- and "voluntarily and confidentially" disclosed the "database issue" to his investigators.

Orie's attorney, William Costopoulos, did not return calls for comment.

Orie, 49, is scheduled for trial in February before 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. Melvin recused herself from her sister's appeals and any of Zappala's cases.

Orie's first trial ended in a mistrial in March when Manning ruled defense attorneys introduced doctored documents as evidence. Zappala last month charged Orie with 16 new counts, including forgery and perjury. Investigators want the missing files for the forgery investigation, he said.

Investigators have copies of some of the missing files, given to them earlier by attorneys for Senate Republicans, and learned files are missing when they requested more information, Zappala said.

The Pennsylvania State Police computer crime unit will assist Zappala's office in the investigation, said public information officer Sgt. Anthony Manetta.

"We have the resources he is requesting," Manetta said.

Zappala said investigators can track who deleted files based on computer passwords and login information. Many of Orie's files were scanned into Senate computers.

"We're going through the process of elimination," he said.

State police assisted during the initial investigation, Zappala said, and he asked for the agency's help again because of its skilled computer crime unit.

Zappala's office began investigating Orie after an intern in her office called the state Attorney General's Office to complain about doing campaign work on state time. The intern later testified that the office referred her to the district attorney.

Orie's attorneys have characterized Zappala's investigation as a political vendetta.

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