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Election board clears man of perjury charges

| Thursday, May 9, 2002

UNIONTOWN - The Fayette County Election Board on Wednesday found that a Washington Township Democratic committeeman did not commit perjury when he circulated and signed nominating petitions for two candidates in districts other than his own.

The election board, comprised of commissioners Vincent Vicites and Ronald Nehls and citizen David Lohr, convened to hear the petition of Jeraldine Mazza of Flatwoods Road, Vanderbilt, who claimed that Joseph Malaspina of Washington Township committed perjury by affixing his signature to three different nominating petitions for the office of committeeman for three townships, including his own nominating petition.

While the election board found that Malaspina committed no wrongdoing out of ignorance of the law, the board suggested that ignorance about the election process could be eliminated through training.

Both Mazza and Malaspina are members of the commissioners-appointed voter integrity panel. Mazza was appointed by Cavanagh; Malaspina, by Vicites.

Lohr said the charge of perjury is difficult to prove because there was no witness to say that Malaspina purposely signed his name to the petitions of Gloria Yuschak in Washington Township District 1 and Sean Sypolt in Washington Township District 4 where the petition asked if the petition's circulator is a registered member of the political district and party.

The petitions of Yuschak and Sypolt were thrown out by two Fayette County judges. Malaspina's own nominating petition was valid.

"He claims he thought district meant town...he claims it was a honest mistake," said Mazza. "He had to know he didn't live in three different districts. He had to know he couldn't circulate the petitions."

The hearing began with Mazza requesting that Vicites excuse himself from presiding over the hearing. "He's already made up his mind and he shouldn't be on this board," Mazza said, noting that Vicites and Malaspina are friends.

Vicites said he would not excuse himself. Sheryl Heid, election board solicitor, said Vicites did not have to recuse himself unless he felt he could not hear the evidence and reach a fair decision.

Mazza, in presenting her case, called Malaspina as a witness. Malaspina testified that this was the first time he circulated nominating petitions for state Democratic committee persons outside of his own district. Malaspina said he later learned from Laurie Nicholson, head of the election bureau, that a person circulating nominating petitions for the positions of committee person, constable and judge of election must reside in the precinct where they are circulating petitions.

"By me doing it, I got them thrown off the ballot," said Malaspina of Yuschak's and Sypolt's petitions.

Heid said the board needed to determine if Malaspina's actions warranted further investigation by the county's district attorney in the form of charges being filed.

The board found that further investigation was not needed, and that educating candidates on the intricacies of the election process is needed in Fayette County.

Lohr said the election bureau needs to teach candidates right and wrong of seeking political office. Vicites said the instruction could run the gamut to include: training poll workers, training for candidates' campaign expense forms, getting authorization to run for office and what is required of candidates at polling places.

The election board directed Nicholson to look into training for the general election in November.

Nehls said Malaspina admitted wrongdoing and will be politically shamed. "If reflection is cast upon your integrity, it is up to you and voters in your district to decide. Let's move forward with a better knowledge of this in the future."

Mazza, following adjournment, said she did not want criminal charges brought against Malaspina, but she does want to see him removed from the voter integrity panel. Mazza said that if Malaspina were a gentlemen he "would resign...not taint the work we're (the panel) trying to do."

As for Vicites' refusal to recuse himself, Mazza said that she felt Vicites made up his mind weeks ago before hearing any of the evidence.

Vicites countered that the board found Malaspina made a mistake and the issue has been resolved. Vicites said he would not remove Malaspina from the voter integrity board.

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