A former Pennsylvania state senator who used state funds for campaign purposes was convicted on 14 counts of misconduct – and is now being called to carry out a sentence of up to 10 years in prison, adding yet another case to this year’s string of campaign financing scandals.
Former Sen. Jane Orie, a Republican, was convicted in March for five felonies and nine misdemeanors for theft, forgery, evidence tampering, conspiracy and conflict of interest charges, stemming from a system in which she used her staff to carry out campaign duties for her and her sister, Joan Orie Melvin, who serves as a supreme court state judge. Melvin faces nine charges for misusing her own funds, utilizing state-funded staff to carry out campaign duties in 2003 and 2009 races. A hearing for Melvin’s case was delayed Tuesday.
According to an article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Orie has claimed all along that charges against her were politically motivated, but gave no comment following her sentence, which was read Monday by Judge Jeffrey A. Manning. The judge declared Orie will face a sentence with from two-and-a-half to 10 years.
While not specifically addressing the sentence, the 10-year senator did issue a resignation statement, in which she said it had been “an honor and a privilege” to “serve the state of Pennsylvania.”
Orie complicated the case further when she presented what the court deemed to be forged documents as evidence, Manning said regarding the case, according to the Lehigh Valley’s The Morning Call newspaper.
“Forgery and tampering with evidence, introduced by you in a judicial proceeding, there cannot be a more flagrant and disgraceful violation of that oath,” Manning said, referring to Orie’s pledge as a lawyer to uphold truth. Orie’s conviction now bars her from practicing law.
Accusations that charges were politically motivated stem from a long lasting family battle between Orie and the district attorney, Stephen Zappala Jr., a Democrat. Orie’s lawyer claimed this as a reason the sentence will be appealed. However, the judge addressed this issue early in the game, saying there was no substantial reason to believe the feud did not play a role in the charges, according to Morning Call report.
A culture of corruption?
Orie’s controversy highlights a string of incidents lately in which politicians have been alleged of misusing campaign funding. The most notable case came to somewhat of a conclusion last week, when former North Carolina senator and Democratic vice presidential candidate John Edwards was dismissed on charges that he used campaign funds to buy out and hide a former mistress, along with their lovechild. Edwards was found not guilty on one count of campaign finance fraud, but the judge in the case deemed a mistrial for all other charges.
Days before the Edwards verdict, the former wife of an Illinois senator came forward, alleging her ex-husband had paid an ex-girlfriend upwards of $142,000. Kimberly Vertolli claimed Sen. Mark Kirk, a Republican, paid her off to the tune of $40,000 after making noise about Kirk’s donation to who is now his ex-girlfriend.
Kirk never denied giving the six figure payment to Dodie McCracken, the ex-girlfriend, who owned the public relations firm the senator used during his campaign. The issue, however, is why Kirk hadn’t written the donation down in the books, instead funneling the funds through the Patterson Group, Kirk’s campaign contractor.
The formal complaint, filed by Vertolli, now rests with the Federal Election Commission, which will decide whether allegations potentially violate campaign finance laws.