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Former district judge candidate faces perjury charges

Chuck Biedka
| Friday, Nov. 18, 2005

A former district justice candidate charged with perjury is described as a "Boy Scout" by his attorney who said the charges wouldn't have been filed elsewhere.

Thomas A. Kuhns Jr., 56, of Reynard Drive is charged with five counts of perjury involving his nominating petitions for the spring primary election.

An Allegheny County detective alleges Kuhns submitted notarized petitions as correct when in fact six of those people named hadn't signed the petitions.

Martin A. Dietz, one of Kuhns' attorneys, said Kuhns is an elected constable who doesn't have a criminal record.

Kuhns confirmed that he surrendered to officials Tuesday at Municipal Court in Pittsburgh.

"I was charged and released on my recognizance," he said. Kuhns referred other questions to Dietz.

Kuhns' preliminary hearing will be before a Municipal Court judge and not by District Judge Carolyn Bengel in the Natrona section of Harrison because Kuhns was trying to unseat Bengel in the primary race, Dietz said.

Last spring the Valley News Dispatch reported that Albert and Kathleen Zigo of Harrison filed a civil complaint asking the Allegheny County court to intervene because of alleged irregularity with some of the signatures on Kuhns' nominating petitions.

County Elections Manager Mark Wolosik confirmed Thursday that his office asked county detectives to investigate.

Kuhns withdrew from the primary, citing "personal reasons." Dietz declined to elaborate.

In an affidavit, county Detective Patrick Miller alleges that when Kuhns went to a notary, "he effectively affirmed that the information contained on his petitions were true and correct." The detective said Kuhns is "solely responsible for the petitions."

Lorie Angely and Henry Eckenrod, both of Tarentum, are among the six whose names allegedly appear on the petitions without permission.

Last spring an older man and a younger man, who Angely said she believes was candidate Maegan Susa Filo's husband Joel, visited her at her house to ask if she signed the petition.

"I told them I didn't sign it and I didn't know anything about it," said Angely, who works for the Valley News Dispatch.

Later, in front of a notary public brought by the same men to her house, Angely said she signed a paper declaring she hadn't signed the petition. Angely said she is a staunch Bengel supporter.

She said a county detective visited her weeks later.

Eckenrod said he knows Kuhns "slightly" and that he "wouldn't vote for him."

"So why would I sign the petition• I didn't and I wouldn't lie about this," Eckenrod said.

The other four people named in the affidavit didn't return calls.

Dietz said the criminal charges and possible penalties, of up to seven years in prison for each charge, are ridiculous. Kuhns wouldn't face the maximum penalty if he is convicted, Dietz said.

Dietz said there are political overtones to the charges which he said are of the type that wouldn't be filed in another county.

A county detective "wouldn't be sitting around to investigate this type of case. Someone made a call to someone else. It's politics," Dietz said.

County Police Superintendent Charles Moffatt and District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala's spokesman Mike Manko said they didn't know of similar severe elections-related charges filed in the county, but both the matter isn't political.

Moffatt said the case was referred to the detectives, not started by detectives.

According to a police affidavit used to charge Kuhns, the county district attorney's office told Miller to "charge Kuhns with one count of perjury for every fraudulent signature on the forms."

Dietz said Kuhns has contributed to his community.

Kuhns is a 1966 graduate of Tarentum High School and honorably served in the U.S. Army from 1969 to 1971.

He has owned and operated West Interior Services Inc., along Route 908, for 31 years.

Kuhns served as a Fawn supervisor from 1996 to 1999 and was supervisors' chairman from 1997 to 1999.

He is a member of the board of directors for the Alle-Kiski Hope Center Inc. and the Allegheny Valley Chamber of Commerce. He has been a constable since 2004. Among other things, Kuhns was a member of an Allegheny Valley Chamber of Commerce committee that worked with the Valley News Dispatch to sponsor an anti-drug summit that attracted more than 700 participants at a New Kensington hotel.

This year he bought meals for youngsters who were part of a jail tour sponsored by the Alle-Kiski Health Foundation.

The tours sought to dissuade the youth from unlawful behavior.

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