Orie sisters ordered to face trial
Members of the Orie family outside the Allegheny County Courthouse. From left, brother Jack Orie, Janine Orie, Sen. Jane Clare Orie, and Jack's son, Matt Orie.
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State Sen. Jane Clare Orie and her sister state Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin turned to a clairvoyant to foretell the outcome of their effort to head off a grand jury investigation that ultimately snared the senator.
Five months later, the grand jury issued a 66-page presentment saying Ms. Orie and another sister, Janine Orie, an aide to Justice Melvin, assigned state employees to work on Justice Melvin's campaign.
On Wednesday, Common Pleas Judge Donna Jo McDaniel ordered Jane and Janine Orie held for trial after a 21/2-day preliminary hearing. The charges are conspiracy, theft of services and ethics violations.
The other-worldly interlude involving spirits occurred in November of last year. An account of the incident is tucked deep inside a collection of affidavits entered as evidence in the case against Ms. Orie.
The "angel lady," as she was referred to in several spots, was consulted for advice about the outcome of a meeting between Robert Kramm, described by prosecutors as a political consultant with the Laborers' District Council of Western Pennsylvania, and Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr., whose office continues to investigate the Orie sisters.
According to sources close to the case, the sisters sought advice from Carolann Sano of Philadelphia, a self-described "clairaudient," who says she can channel messages from spirit guides -- she refers to them as angels. Ms. Sano says that when she receives a question from a client, she speaks it aloud and hears the answer whispered into her right ear.
Several e-mails, which investigators believe were dated Nov. 20, discussed one of the sisters' consultation with the "angel lady" about what decision Mr. Zappala would make after his meeting with Mr. Kramm.
At that meeting, prosecutors said in other documents, Mr. Kramm purportedly said the sisters had informed him that they planned to launch an all-out attack on Mr. Zappala and his family's political connections. He also said the sisters would publicly accuse prosecutor Lawrence Claus of being biased because Jane Orie had arranged for him to be fired from another job with the state attorney general's office.
While Mr. Zappala did not immediately respond to Mr. Kramm during the visit, DA Detective Lyle Graber, in an affidavit unsealed this week, said the Orie sisters sought an advance look into the DA's decision.
The documents do not indicate what predictions Ms. Sano conveyed to the sisters.
Prosecutors consider the "angel lady" angle significant because, if tied to the Nov. 19 meeting between Mr. Kramm and Mr. Zappala, it would buttress allegations that the women had dispatched Mr. Kramm on their behalf to threaten the district attorney out of pursuing charges.
Mr. Graber's affidavit argues that the meeting was an attempt to derail an ongoing grand jury investigation.
Investigators stumbled across the messages while exploring e-mail accounts for Mr. Kramm and one listed as email@example.com. The affidavit also notes that Mr. Kramm appeared to have been in e-mail contact with the Orie camp prior to Oct. 30, the day an intern went to the district attorney's office with complaints of illegal campaign activity.
William C. Costopoulos, attorney for Jane Orie, said it is possible that the sisters, facing the stress of a crucial investigation, sought some sort of comfort through prayer or even a medium.
"They may have, and I don't fault them for it," Mr. Costopoulos said. "Whenever the justice system is visited upon good people, it is a very frightening and disturbing life event. I can tell you it doesn't dissuade me at all from defending them aggressively."
Ms. Sano did not respond to an e-mail requesting comment, and a telephone listing at her site did not accept messages. A directory search failed to produce a listing under her name.
The first reference to a clairvoyant crops up in a text message obtained by prosecutors, sent by Jamie Pavlot, at that time the senator's chief of staff, just hours after a University of Pittsburgh intern abruptly resigned to protest what she said was political work on state time at the senator's office.
The resignation set off a flurry of activity. According to documents presented by prosecutors, at 12:16 p.m. Oct. 30, according to a search warrant affidavit, Ms. Pavlot sent a text message to Ms. Orie: "Can I call the angel ladies?"
Five minutes later, a text reply came from Sen. Orie's telephone: "Yes ... jamie just be smart and careful ... you can never let your guard down." The messages go on to warn Ms. Pavlot about security and worries that another employee, Charlie Young, was secretly taping others in the office.
Detectives said this apparently reflected an erroneous belief on the part of the senator and her staff that Mr. Young was cooperating with investigators.
As the case was bound over for court Wednesday, lawyers for the defense pledged a tough fight while attorneys for state Senate Republicans monitored courtroom events.
Also on hand was attorney J. Alan Johnson, who represents Justice Melvin. He indicated that he gives little credence to Mr. Kramm's assertion that he was sent to carry a threat.
"Let that man come forward on the witness stand. If he has to come to the witness stand or we have to call him and confront him with what he said, let's see what he's like after we cross-examine him," Mr. Johnson said.
Mr. Kramm has not responded to calls seeking comment.
Judge McDaniel's decision to hold the sisters for trial did not surprise defense attorneys. The judge herself acknowledged that law only calls for enough evidence to argue that a crime might have been committed.
"As you know, the standard here is very low," she told attorneys.
First Published July 22, 2010 12:00 am