HARRISBURG --A state grand jury is investigating a former state House member from Erie whose political career ended abruptly after scores of apparently bogus signatures were discovered on papers she filed with the state elections bureau.
Linda Bebko-Jones, a Democrat who represented Erie in the state House of Representatives from 1993 to 2007, is at the center of the grand jury investigation being conducted out of Pittsburgh. Questions are focusing on the role of her former administrative assistant.
At least one former staff member has been summoned to testify before the panel about apparently fraudulent nominating petition signatures that included the mother of former state Sen. Anthony "Buzz" Andrezeski. Mrs. Bebko-Jones was a staff assistant to Mr. Andrezeski when he served in the Legislature.
Mr. Andrezeski said last week that state investigators had questioned his mother about her signature on Mrs. Bebko-Jones's petitions.
"My mother never signed anything," Mr. Andrezeski said. "My mother's 87. I think the signature was actually copied or traced. It's close, but it ain't my mommy's."
Mrs. Bebko-Jones withdrew from her re-election race amid allegations of faulty nominating petitions.
One former aide to Mrs. Bebko-Jones, Terra Heilman, was subpoenaed and appeared before the grand jury last month, according to sources close to the investigation. Ms. Heilman spent approximately an hour before the grand jury, which meets in Downtown Pittsburgh.
Mr. Andrezeski said Ms. Heilman told him she had seen an aide to Mrs. Bebko-Jones apparently copying signatures from a prior election petition onto the candidate's 2006 nominating petition in a Harrisburg office shortly before the petition was due.
The investigation began after Mr. Andrezeski, angry at the apparent forgery of his mother's name, wrote to the office of Attorney General Tom Corbett, blaming Mary Fiolek, Mrs. Bebko-Jones' top aide, for the petition irregularities. He said, in a letter asking for an investigation, that he did not believe Mrs. Bebko-Jones was aware of the forgeries at the time they occurred.
"The representative's secretary in Harrisburg informed me she personally observed Mary Fiolek, the administrative assistant, copying names from voting lists to nominating petitions," Mr. Andrezeski wrote to Mr. Corbett on Oct. 27 of last year. "When the representative confronted her, Mary Fiolek threatened her by saying, 'If I go to jail, you go to jail. That's the way it is.' Rep. Bebko-Jones then announced her retirement."
Mr. Andrezeski confirmed the letter, a copy of which was obtained by the Post-Gazette.
A senior House staff member, who spoke on condition of anonymity, also backed up Mr. Andrezeski's account, saying Ms. Heilman had spoken to him about witnessing what she thought was forgery of petition signatures.
The episode unfolded days before Mrs. Bebko-Jones's nominating petitions were due in the state elections office. Staff members assigned to the task of rounding up the signatures had not obtained the required 300 signatures from registered Democratic voters needed to get on the primary ballot.
Mr. Andrezeski said he had been advising Mrs. Bebko-Jones and her campaign and was surprised when he discovered that they had failed to circulate her petitions.
"Nobody checked to see if they were getting anything done. It's about three days before filing time. I don't think they had a hundred signatures," he said.
Neither Mrs. Bebko-Jones nor Ms. Fiolek returned repeated telephone calls requesting comment. Ms. Heilman, reached at her home, said she had no comment.
Ms. Heilman's name also appears on a list of state employees who worked for Democratic political campaigns in 2006 and who later received hefty pay bonuses.
She appears on a single receipt connected with the re-election campaign of House Majority Leader H. William DeWeese, D-Greene, for a March 26, 2006, luncheon in Erie.
Mr. Andrezeski said he became aware the investigation was under way sometime in February or March, when investigators asked to meet with his mother, and when he also received reports that others whose names appeared on Mrs. Bebko-Jones's petitions had been contacted by agents from the attorney general's office.
"Linda Bebko-Jones told me it was old women from the neighborhood on Lynn Street who were subpoenaed," Mr. Andrezeski said, referring to Mrs. Bebko-Jones's neighborhood.
Dennis B. Roddy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1965.