Orie convicted on 14 charges in corruption case

Pa. senator guilty on 14 of 24 criminal charges



State Sen. Jane Orie stood emotionless Monday as the foreman of her Allegheny County jury pronounced her guilty on 14 of 24 criminal counts against her -- five of them felonies.

She showed no reaction, either, when the judge presiding over her corruption case ruled that the sitting Republican from McCandless would no longer be free on her own recognizance but now must wear an electronic ankle bracelet pending her May 21 sentencing.

She could face incarceration, though Assistant District Attorney Lawrence Claus would not say if he would seek it. Instead, he said that each felony charge could result in seven years in prison.

Defense attorney William Costopoulos said he was concerned about the sentence.


CHARGES
  • Guilty: Diversion of services (2), criminal conspiracy, conflict of interest (2), tampering with and/or fabricating evidence (7), forgery (2)
  • Not guilty: Diversion of services, conflict of interest, tampering with and/or fabricating evidence (2), perjury (3), obstruction of justice, election code violation, failure to report by a candidate
  • » See a chart of each count

"We will make our best presentation to keep it in the mitigated range."

Mr. Costopoulos was unsure if his client would step down from her 40th District seat but expected a decision soon.

"I know she'll make the right decision," he said after the jury announced its verdict just before 6 p.m.

"She's always made decisions in the best interest of her constituents."

Ms. Orie left the courthouse quickly with no comment, along with a brother, attorney Jack Orie, and sister, Janine Orie, who is also facing criminal charges as an administrative assistant for another sister, state Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin.

The justice has previously been identified as the target of a grand jury investigation. She has not been charged.

"We were, of course, all disappointed in the verdict." Mr. Costopoulos said. "There is no positive spin I can put on it."

He said Ms. Orie "did not say anything" while the verdict was being read. "She has deep faith, and I believe when the jury came in ... she looked to her faith for strength."

The jury of seven women and five men deliberated the 24 counts for about 50 hours over five days before alerting the court at 5:15 that it had reached a verdict.

Though several jurors looked overwrought as the lengthy verdict slip was read, it wasn't until Judge Jeffrey A. Manning commended their diligent service that seven of them began to cry.

"It was a grueling, grueling process to do this," said the foreman, also known as Juror No. 8, who asked that his name not be used.

"These are not clear-cut issues. None of them are."

Ms. Orie, 50, was charged with using her legislative staffers to campaign for both herself and Justice Melvin.

The senator was also charged with perjury, forgery, tampering with evidence and election code violations stemming from her first trial in the case in February 2011.

The jury split on the verdict, finding Ms. Orie guilty of theft of services, ethics violations, tampering with evidence and forgery. The tampering charges referred to a number of "self-serving" hand-written directives prosecutors said Ms. Orie added to printouts of emails and memos after she received discovery before her first trial last year.

The forgery stemmed from the now infamous cut-and-paste signature of her former chief of staff, Jamie Pavlot, found on a mileage letter.

But the jury also found Ms. Orie not guilty on the theft count related to Justice Melvin's Supreme Court campaigns in 2003 and 2006, and on the ethics count related to the justice.

The jurors also acquitted the senator on all of the perjury counts, as well as election code violations.

"From the prosecution's point of view, the 10 counts on which she was acquitted don't really matter," said John Burkoff, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh. "If someone takes a gun and fires 24 shots at you, we don't ask 'hey, how many bullets missed you?' We ask: 'Were you hit?' Sen. Orie was hit. Fourteen times."

Mr. Claus commended the verdict, saying he believed the jury sent a message.

"Individuals who hold public office hold a public trust," he said. "When they breach that public trust, prosecution will follow."

The foreman, though, said the verdict was not intended to be a larger message.

"I realize, lately, we're in this culture of corruption, and there are politicians daily being named or indicted," he said. "Unfortunately, this happened to Sen. Orie.

"That aside, I don't think there is an overall message."

Ms. Orie's trial began Feb. 29.

The case went to the jury after 17 days of testimony, including 24 current or former Orie staffers who said campaign work often was done in the legislative office for both the senator and for Justice Melvin.

But the jury's verdict made it clear that the prosecution had not proved the counts involving the justice.

Mr. Claus would not speculate what that meant.

"I think that would be too hard to read something into that," he said. "The evidence was focused on the conduct, obviously, of the senator, herself."

Mr. Burkoff believes the verdict does not bode well for Janine Orie, whose trial is pending, or for Justice Melvin.

"This conviction is obviously the end of the senator's political career. But it also spells big trouble ahead for both of her sisters," he said. "In some ways, the criminal case against Janine is stronger than the case against the senator. And after this conviction, criminal charges against Justice Orie Melvin are probably only a matter of days -- if not hours -- away."

The jury began deliberating Thursday afternoon. Saturday evening they reported to the judge that they had reached a "serious impasse."

Judge Manning instructed them to keep trying, and at the time, denied a request by Mr. Costopoulos for a mistrial.

The foreman said Monday there was never a "split" among the jurors and that he believed from the outset of deliberations that the political fundraising work during office hours "was evident."

The defense argued that it was Ms. Orie's former chief of staff, Ms. Pavlot, who directed the employees to do campaign work on state time. Even if the senator knew about it, Mr. Costopoulos argued during his closing, the amounts involved were "de minimis," or "petty."

The foreman said they wrestled with that term and how it should be considered. He also said they considered the senator's testimony.

"It was, to me, believable and reasonable," the foreman said. But, he continued, "There were moments where I was struggling with some of the truthfulness."


Paula Reed Ward: pward@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2620. First Published March 27, 2012 4:00 AM


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