Judge orders Orie case reimbursements

Ex-senator's repayments about 10 percent of $2M sought by prosecutors

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A former state senator now in prison will only be required to pay about 10 percent of what prosecutors were seeking in restitution and damages after she was convicted on public corruption charges earlier this year.

Jane C. Orie, 50, was ordered Tuesday to pay $23,269.74 in restitution and $46,539.48 in damages related to two counts of theft of services for which she was found guilty. In addition, Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey A. Manning ordered Orie to reimburse the Senate Republican Caucus $110,650 it paid toward outside counsel as part of her criminal investigation.

Prosecutors were seeking about $2 million in payments from Orie. The judge's order requires Orie to use her contributions to her state pension to cover some of the costs.

District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. said in a statement that the opinion was well-reasoned and recognized the financial damage caused by Orie.

"That being said, it is a shame that despite the fact that the General Assembly of Pennsylvania has never sought taxpayer approval to pay for attorney fees to defend corrupt politicians, these fees are routinely paid, and the citizens of this commonwealth are twice victimized upon conviction of corrupt politicians unless restitution is had."

Orie must repay the caucus the money it spent to represent her, Judge Manning wrote, because there is no doubt that the money used to pay private counsel is "public."

"The defendant was a public official. Public monies were expended to defend her. She is required to reimburse the commonwealth of Pennsylvania for the monies spent to defend her."

Her defense attorney, William Costopoulos, argued that the request by the prosecution was unprecedented -- especially in light of the many recent convictions in the cases known as Bonusgate.

Judge Manning was not dissuaded.

"Whether or not this request by the commonwealth has any precedent is immaterial," he wrote. "The statute clearly and unequivocally requires the court to order a public official convicted of a criminal offense to reimburse the commonwealth for any funds incurred to defend that official."

Orie is also required to forfeit $89,670.18 in her contributions toward her state pension, which shall be used to cover a portion of the costs. The remainder will be paid at a rate of $500 per month once Orie is released from prison.

She is currently being housed at the State Correctional Institution at Cambridge Springs.

Judge Manning issued his 14-page opinion nearly a month after sentencing the McCandless Republican to 21/2 to 10 years in prison.

She was convicted on 14 counts, including five felonies, after a nearly monthlong trial in March.

Mr. Costopoulos said he had not yet seen the opinion, but did receive a summary.

"It seems as though Judge Manning has issued a thoughtful ruling based on the facts," he said.

Although he didn't say he was pleased with the dollar amount, Mr. Costopoulos did say, "It's certainly a lot less," than what the prosecution had been seeking.

Assistant District Attorney Lawrence Claus had argued that Orie should have to pay damages equal to what he considered to be Orie's financial gain from her crimes.

However, Judge Manning could not find evidence to sustain the amounts being sought.

Orie was accused of using her legislative staff to run campaign fundraisers and conduct election activity for herself and her sister, state Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin.

Justice Melvin is suspended from the court and faces similar allegations at a preliminary hearing next week.

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Paula Reed Ward: pward@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2620.


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