Monthly Archives: October 2014

DA Reviewing Private Criminal Complaint Against Republican House Candidate for Alleged Voter Fraud; PA Dem Chair Calls for Recusal of DA/Campaign Donor

Jason Ortitay (left) and District Attorney Gene Vittone (right)

A formal private criminal complaint was filed this week against a Republican state House candidate asking the Washington County District attorney – who after being questioned Friday said he might have a conflict of interest in the case – to investigate whether “(Jason) Ortitay knowingly and intentionally changed his voter registration to an address he never lived at in order to run for the General Assembly.”

According to a campaign finance report filed this week by Ortitay’s campaign, the Committee to Re-Elect Gene Vittone donated $200 to the fellow Republican’s political campaign.

Asked Thursday about whether his office would investigate, Vittone first said the state Attorney General would have jurisdiction. When told the Attorney General’s office indicated that his office had jurisdiction, Vittone then suggested that the state House of Representatives would need to take up the issue if and when Ortitay got elected. He then said that his office would not be able to investigate unless a formal criminal complaint was filed.

“That’s the procedure,” he said Thursday.

Reached Friday after Marcellus Monitor obtained the formal criminal complaint, Vittone said it would be reviewed, and that he could not make a decision or comment extensively until he had read it.

Asked if his campaign committee donating money to Ortitay’s campaign would constitute as a conflict of interest, he said he would need to review what was being alleged before making that determination.

“If I believe there is a conflict, I will farm it out to the Attorney General’s office,” Vittone said.

Asked why he didn’t mention the potential conflict of interest when asked about the issue Thursday, he said, “You didn’t ask,” then added, “I forgot about it.”

Vittone, who said he was “permitted to donate to political campaigns like anyone else,” then added:

“There is nothing sinister going on.”

But reached Friday evening, Pennsylvania Democratic Party Chairman Jim Burn called on Vittone to immediately recuse himself from the case.

Burn gave the following statement:

“The evidence suggests – in my opinion – that further investigation is warranted and should start immediately. The candidate needs to come clean or hire a lawyer. It is of extreme significance to us in the Democratic Party: (Vittone) must recuse himself immediately. In my opinion it creates the appearance of a conflict because he gave money to a candidate who is the subject of a private criminal complaint.”

Burn then added:

“It’s unfortunate that Republicans made so much noise in 2012 about voter fraud on the part of Democrats. When we raise similar concerns, we can’t seem to find a Republican who wants to do anything about it.”

The private criminal complaint filed Friday, names both Ortitay and Pam Church, the woman with whom he said he lived when he filled out a voter registration form on Oct. 7, 2014 – the last day on which he could register and still meet the residential requirements to run for office in the 46th legislative District.

The complaint alleges that Ortitay violated Pennsylvania election law, specifically 25 Pa.C.S.A. § 1703(a)(3), which prohibits an individual from declaring a residence he knows is not his legal residence on a voter registration form.

Violation of this statute is a first-degree misdemeanor that carries a fine of as much as $10,000, and/or five years in prison. It also calls for the loss of voting rights for a period of 10 years.

Documents obtained by Marcellus Monitor indicate that while Ortitay registered to vote in Burgettstown Oct. 7, 2013 – certifying under penalty of perjury that he would have lived there for a minimum of 30 days prior to that year’s election – he then, just a day later on Oct. 8, signed a lease for an apartment in South Fayette.

On Oct. 8, Ortitay also filled out a change-of-address form through the U.S. Postal Service asking that his mail be forwarded from his former Pittsburgh address to his South Fayette apartment, beginning on Oct. 11. The lease for his former Pittsburgh apartment did not expire until Oct. 31, 2013, according to that document.

To read Marcellus Monitor’s investigative report about Ortitay’s voter registration, click here.

Oritay did not respond to repeated requests for comment on the matter.

Oritay is the Republican facing off against incumbent state Rep. Jesse White, a Democrat from Cecil Township in the 46th District race – one in which Marcellus shale is a leading issue.

 

 

 

Advertisements
Tagged , , , , ,

Did A Republican Candidate in Shale-Centric PA House Race Commit Voter Fraud?

Editor’s Note: Faithful readers of Marcellus Monitor likely have noticed the vast majority of stories I’ve published over this past year have originated from southwestern Pennsylvania, or, more specifically, from Pennsylvania’s 46th Legislative District.

The sitting representative in the district, which encompasses portions of Washington and Allegheny counties, is state Rep. Jesse White, a Democrat from Cecil Township. White has been called a “watchdog” on matters pertaining to Marcellus Shale. Because of his outspoken criticism of the Marcellus Shale industry and the state Department of Environmental Protection, which is tasked with regulating it, White has been painted as the “anti-shale” candidate by some.

His opponent, Republican Jason Ortitay (who owns Jason’s Cheesecake Company) is, by contrast, largely considered the “pro-shale” candidate (in fact, EQT’s political action committee is hosting an event to benefit the first-time state representative candidate this Thursday at the Cambria Suites in Washington.

IMG_1269

By way of background, DEP recently announced it is seeking a $4.5 million fine from the company for what the department called an impoundment leak. If assessed, it will be the largest such civil penalty in state history.

All that said, this story, while a bit different from the types of investigative reports I have published in the past, is pertinent, I believe, to all those who have been following this shale-centric race, and to all those who live  or work in the 46th District. -amanda

image

(This house on Maple Avenue in Burgettstown – the home of Pam Church – is where Jason Ortitay, Republican candidate for the 46th District state House seat, said he lived when he registered to vote in Burgettstown, Washington County. Ortitay registered to vote there on the very last day he could move into the district and still, under Pennsylvania statute, be eligible to run for office during this year’s election. Photo by Faith Cotter. Taken on Oct. 13, 2014)

By Faith Cotter

Despite admitting in a recent interview that he was in between apartments at the time, Republican candidate for the 46th state House seat, Jason Ortitay, registered to vote in Burgettstown, Washington County – an address that, on paper, moved him into the district on the very last day he could and still be eligible to run for office there in this November’s general election.

photo-2 Headshot
However, state election code dictates that, by registering, a prospective voter is stating – under penalty of perjury – that they will have lived at that residence for 30 days prior to the election in which they wish to vote. But according to documents, Ortitay signed a lease in South Fayette in Allegheny – which is also in the district – just a day after registering to vote in Burgettstown. And according to documents, Ortitay never even received mail at the Burgettstown addresss.

According to a change-of-address form filled out by Ortitay on Oct. 8, 2013 – just a day after he registered to vote in Burgettstown—he had his mail forwarded from his former Pittsburgh address to his new South Fayette Township address. The change of address was scheduled to take effect just days later on Oct. 11, 2013.

photo

Had Ortitay waited to register Oct. 8 at his South Fayette address, he may not have been eligible to run for office in the 46th District because he would not have lived in the district for the amount of time required by state statute.

When asked about when he moved in and out of Church’s Burgettstown home, and why he registered there when he signed a lease in South Fayette Township only a day later, Ortitay said:

“I changed my voter registration on the last day I could. Everything I did was completely legitimate. I asked if it was legitimate, and they said yes.”

But according to obtained documents, Ortitay, on paper, was still living in a Pittsburgh apartment until Oct. 31, 2013, when the lease expired. His former Pittsburgh address is not part of the 46th District.

He then signed the new lease for his South Fayette Township apartment (in which he currently resides) on Oct. 8, 2013, the day after he registered to vote in Burgettstown.

During an interview in a Panera parking lot on Oct. 13, 2014, Ortitay was unable to provide specific dates on which he moved in and out of the Burgettstown home – or why he registered there when he signed a lease elsewhere just a day later.

Although a car was in the driveway and a light was on in Church’s home the afternoon of Oct. 13, 2014, nobody answered the door to help clarify when Mr. Ortitay allegedly resided there.

While no one answered the door there after three attempts at knocking, a neighbor across the street answered hers. The neighbor, Carrie Ferris, has resided at her home for 16 years and said that she is “pretty familiar” with the neighborhood.

After being shown a photo of Ortitay, she said, “No, I’ve never seen him around.”

According to Pennsylvania election code, a person is committing voter fraud if they, “Declare as residence a place or address which the individual knows is not the individual’s legal residence.”

If an individual is found guilty of violating this section of Pennsylvania law, which is a first-degree misdemeanor, the penalty could include a fine of not more than $10,000 or imprisonment for not more than five years. Additionally, individuals who are found guilty of violating the statute may lose their right to vote for a period of 10 years.

According to the Criminal Law Division of the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office, if there is evidence of an individual committing voter fraud, the case would be investigated by the district attorney’s office in the county the individual voted in, unless there is a conflict of interest. In that case, the state Attorney General would have jurisdiction to investigate.

A phone message left with the Washington County District Attorney’s office last week was not immediately returned.

Ortitay did not return two voice mail messages left on his cell phone seeking comment on this story. He hung up on a reporter without answering during a third attempt to make contact prior to publication.

Author’s Note: Faith Cotter is an award-winning writer and editor based in Pittsburgh, PA. Her background includes working as an investigative reporter for The Innocence Institute of Point Park University. She is currently working toward a Master of Arts in Professional Writing from Chatham University. She can be reached by email at faithc3865@gmail.com, or via her website: http://faithc3865.wix.com/faithcotter

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

DEP Seeks $4.5 Million Penalty from EQT Production Company for Major Pollution Incident in Tioga County

for eichler post

Editor’s Note: The following news release was posted today to the website of Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection.

WILLIAMSPORT — The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) today announced that it has filed a complaint with the state Environmental Hearing Board requesting a $4.5 million civil penalty from EQT Production Company of Washington, Pa., for a major pollution incident in 2012 at the company’s Phoenix Pad S location in Duncan Township, Tioga County.

“EQT fails to recognize the ongoing environmental harm from the significant amount of waste released by its leaking six million gallon impoundment,” Acting DEP Secretary Dana Aunkst said. “This action was necessary because the company has not been cooperative during our investigation. The department does not tolerate this unacceptable attitude toward compliance and proper protection of Pennsylvania’s environment.”

When EQT originally proposed the impoundment in its earth disturbance permit, the company stated it would be used to store fresh water only. However, after construction was complete in late 2011, the company decided to use the impoundment to store flowback water from Marcellus drilling operations to be used for fracking.

This unauthorized progression compromised environmental protection, as no monitoring wells or leak detection were required to be installed around the impoundment based on its initial stated intended use as a fresh water impoundment.

EQT ultimately proposed to construct a centralized waste impoundment adjacent to the Pad S impoundment and installed monitoring wells to establish baseline water quality in the area. A sampling event conducted on April 30, 2012 revealed elevated levels of chlorides and other parameters in two of the monitoring wells in the vicinity of the existing Pad S impoundment.

During the follow-up investigation of a reported flowback release from a transfer line on May 9, 2012, DEP staff identified two high conductivity seeps near the Pad S impoundment that were unrelated to the reported release. EQT continued to add fluid to the impoundment.

On May 30, 2012, after detecting high conductivity in a third monitoring well for the first time and in a nearby spring, EQT reported to the department that the impoundment was leaking. Impacts were ultimately documented in Rock Run, a high quality stream, an unnamed tributary to Rock Run, and various groundwater seeps and springs. Trees and shrubs along the discharge flow path also were severely impacted.

EQT demonstrated a lack of cooperation by adding more flowback water to the impoundment even after becoming aware of the elevated chlorides in the nearby monitoring wells. A DEP inspection done in June 2012 after the impoundment was emptied verified 75 to 100 holes in the liner as estimated by EQT. EQT later revised this estimate to be over 200 holes.

An aerial inspection of the impoundment area conducted by DEP in August 2012 documented significant areas of stressed vegetation around the well pad in all directions.

EQT eventually removed the liner and excavated contaminated soil but did not conclude this work until July 1, 2013. The exact amount of flowback that leaked from the impoundment is unknown, but the department believes it was significant.

Monitoring of surface waters and the impacted spring by EQT’s consultant has shown contamination is present at high enough levels that this water is still being collected and transported off-site for proper treatment and disposal. Groundwater also continues to show contamination present above standards. This monitoring is being overseen by DEP’s Environmental Cleanup and Brownfields Program.

The department incurred over $112,296 in costs and expenses as a result of its investigation, which is included as part of the proposed penalty.

To view the complaint, visit http://files.dep.state.pa.us/Newsroom/NewsroomPortalFiles/EQT%20Complaint.pdf.  To view the associated exhibits filed with the Board, visit http://files.dep.state.pa.us/Newsroom/NewsroomPortalFiles/EQT_Exhibits%20(3).pptx

For more information, visit www.dep.state.pa.us or call 570-327-3636.