PITTSBURGH (AP) — Republican state Sen. Jane Orie, accused of using her state-funded legislative staff to perform campaign work for herself and a state judge who’s her sister, was convicted Monday on 14 counts of theft of services, conflict of interest and forgery and likely will be forced from the Senate.
Orie, acquitted of 10 other counts including perjury and election code violations, declined to comment after the verdict but appeared to be shaken. Her attorney, William Costopoulos, said after leaving the courtroom: “I can tell you we’re disappointed, and there’s no positive spin I can put on it.”
Orie, 50, was elected to the Senate in a 2001 special election to fill an empty seat and was re-elected three times. The multiple convictions, including on five felony counts, mean she’ll almost certainly be removed from office and lose her state pension.
Prosecutors said Orie, who’s from McCandless, just north of Pittsburgh, had illegally used her legislative staff since 2001 to benefit herself and state Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin, who wasn’t charged.
One legal expert who has followed the trial said Orie’s chances of successfully appealing are slim.
“Any serious convictions like this are exactly what the prosecution sought, and the senator is now probably going to jail,” University of Pittsburgh law professor John Burkoff said. “Convicted of 14 different counts is a lot. It’s serious judgment against her.”
Deputy District Attorney Lawrence Claus declined to say what kind of sentence he’ll seek, but he praised the jury, which deliberated for five straight days.
The ordeal isn’t over for the close-knit Orie family.
A third sister, Janine Orie, is expected to stand trial later this year on charges that she conspired to misuse the senator’s staff to campaign for Melvin and on charges that she similarly directed Melvin’s former Superior Court staff to work on campaigns in 2003 and 2009. She’s fighting the charges.
Melvin was subpoenaed and in December received a letter from the Allegheny County grand jury that recommended charges against Sen. Orie and Janine Orie, who remains suspended from her job as Melvin’s aide. Melvin and her attorney have repeatedly ignored telephone calls seeking comment.
The jury heard 18 days of testimony about an investigation that began in October 2009. That’s when a University of Pittsburgh intern complained to District Attorney Stephen Zappala Jr. that she had seen Sen. Orie’s staff doing campaign work for Melvin just days before her election to the state’s highest court.
Prosecutors contend Sen. Orie launched a cover-up almost immediately by sneaking some political documents out of her office in Pittsburgh’s North Hills suburb and by removing discarded Melvin poll cards from the trash outside the office.
Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey Manning declared a mistrial during Orie’s first trial last March, saying one document was so obviously fake that “even Ray Charles” could see it. An examination of the exhibits by a U.S. Secret Service document expert resulted in forgery, perjury and evidence tampering charges.
More than 20 former and current staff members, including the senator’s former chief of staff, Jamie Pavlot, testified during the first trial and again this year that Orie not only ordered the political work but also sometimes even awarded staffers comp time for doing it.
The senator denied that and argued that any work that occurred was authorized by Pavlot.
Orie will be on electronic home monitoring until she is sentenced in late May.