A statewide grand jury yesterday accused a former Erie legislator and her chief of staff of forging the signatures on her 2006 nominating petitions.
Linda Bebko-Jones, a Democrat who served seven terms in the state House, and Mary Fiolek, who ran Mrs. Bebko-Jones's office and oversaw her campaigns, face arraignment in Harrisburg next week.
A statewide grand jury sitting in Pittsburgh said the pair combed an Erie telephone directory as well as Mrs. Bebko-Jones's personal address book to put together 300 signatures needed to get on the primary ballot.
Special Agent Jack Brickner of the state attorney general's office told grand jurors that he questioned persons whose names appeared on the petitions.
"Agent Brickner was unable to find a single individual who stated that they had signed the petitions," grand jurors wrote in their presentment. "A number explicitly stated they had not signed and stated the signatures thereon were not their own. In one case, an individual who purportedly signed one of the petitions on March 3, 2006, had been deceased since April 15, 2000."
One of the forged signatures appeared to be the mother of former Erie State Sen. Anthony "Buzz" Andrezeski.
In a November story in the Post-Gazette that first revealed the grand jury probe, Mr. Andrezeski, a former Bebko-Jones ally, said state investigators had questioned his mother.
"My mother's 87. I think the signature was actually copied or traced," Mr. Andrezeski said at the time. "It's close, but it ain't my mommy's."
The investigation apparently began after Mr. Andrezeski, angry that someone had forged his mother's name, wrote a letter to Attorney General Tom Corbett. In that letter, he said a secretary in Mrs. Bebko-Jones's Harrisburg office had walked in on Ms. Fiolek the day before the nominating petitions were due and found her copying names from voter registration lists to nominating petitions.
The petitions were later uncovered as bogus.
"When [Mrs. Bebko-Jones] confronted her, Mary Fiolek threatened her by saying, 'If I go to jail, you go to jail. That's the way it is,'" Mr. Andrezeski wrote in his letter.
But the grand jury also found that the two women had colluded on at least some of the fraud.
According to the presentment, Mrs. Bebko-Jones telephoned her son, Bryan Jones, at his home.
"She told him that Mary Fiolek needed to speak with him and handed Fiolek the telephone. Fiolek asked if she could sign Bryan Jones' name on some petitions as the circulator and he agreed," the presentment states. Under state law, the person listed as circulator -- the individual who physically gathers the signature -- must personally sign the document and gather the signatures contained on the petition.
"Jones testified that he had never seen the petitions, or the names signed thereupon, until shown the petitions by investigators for the Office of Attorney General ... Jones admitted that he had not appeared before Mary Fiolek, signed or executed the sworn affidavit of a circulator as declared on the nominating petitions," the grand jury presentment says.
Reached yesterday, Mr. Andrezeski said he believed the scheme was largely Ms. Fiolek's fault and that Mrs. Bebko-Jones had attempted to cover up for her former chief of staff's misdeeds.
"I didn't think the results of my letter would lead to that. But you know what? Maybe some of the legislators ought to learn how to be a boss instead of a friend," he said.
Both women face multiple counts of forgery, tampering with public records, criminal conspiracy and election law violations.
Ms. Fiolek's attorney, Joseph Conti, said yesterday that his client would surrender next week for an arraignment in Harrisburg and enter a plea of not guilty.
"As to what her ultimate defense strategy would be, I'm not at liberty to say at this point," Mr. Conti said.
David Ridge, lawyer for Mrs. Bebko-Jones, could not be reached for comment.
Dennis B. Roddy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1965.