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.