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State to probe claim Roberts bribed candidate

| Friday, March 19, 2004

The state Attorney General's Office is investigating whether veteran state Rep. Larry Roberts bribed a 20-year-old election "spoiler" and used forged nominating petitions in an effort to foil a challenger's run in the 51st Legislative District race.

A state spokeswoman confirmed on Thursday that there will be an investigation, which was prompted by a formal complaint filed by would-be Democratic contender Tim Mahoney.

In the lengthy document, Mahoney petitioned Fayette County's election board for an investigation into Roberts, giving copies of the complaint to the county district attorney's office and the state Attorney General's Office.

County election officials plan to conduct a hearing on the allegations, said county Commissioner Angela Zimmerlink, who also serves on the three-member election board. A date has not been set.

Upon receiving the complaint, Fayette County District Attorney Nancy Vernon referred it to the attorney general, said Barbara Petito, deputy press secretary for the state agency.

"We have accepted the case, and we are proceeding with an investigation," Petito said.

Mahoney, a Uniontown businessman and the county's Democratic jury commissioner, was challenging Roberts, of South Union Township, for the Democratic Party's nomination in the April 27 primary election until a Commonwealth Court ruling was announced earlier this week.

Judge Renee L. Cohn said Mahoney had to be taken off the ballot because he filed an improper financial statement. Such statements are required of candidates under the state Ethics Act. Mahoney said he forgot to sign his.

He said he plans to run on an independent ticket against Roberts in the fall.

During an interview yesterday, Mahoney did not blame Roberts for his fate in the Democratic primary.

"I made the mistake, and I'm going to live up to it," he said. "I can't blame anybody but myself."

But he alleged that Roberts' campaign tactics were criminal.

"I think there's forgeries involved," Mahoney said. "I think there's bribery involved."

Mahoney claims Roberts was trying to draw votes from him by using a dupe candidate, 20-year-old Michael A. Ciampanelli.

Ciampanelli, a carpet installer, is no longer in the race. According to a statement he had signed, Roberts paid him $100 to sign his nominating petitions and promised another $100 "when it was done."

Roberts, a South Union Township Democrat serving his 12th year in the House, has denied Mahoney's claims.

"We've identified forgeries in Mahoney's petitions, too, so if there's going to be an investigation, we'll have to submit those as well," he said yesterday, declining to speak further.

Mahoney, who says his reputation has been sullied in recent weeks, wants the investigation to clear his name.

"All I'm trying to do is tell the truth," he said.

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