The Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office on Wednesday confirmed that it is investigating whether or not Republican Representative-Elect Jason Ortitay committed voter fraud.
Washington County District Attorney Gene Vittone in a telephone call to Marcellus Monitor Wednesday said it was a “no brainer” decision for him to refer the case to the Attorney General’s office.
“I try to do the right thing,” Vittone said, adding that, because he was one of Ortitay’s campaign donors, it would be inappropriate for him to investigate the formal private criminal complaints filed against the Republican first-time political candidate.
Vittone, whose office has been in the spotlight for Rule 600 – or due process – violations, said he referred the case to the Attorney General last week. However, the attorney general’s office confirmed Wednesday morning that the case had just been referred to their office Tuesday.
An investigator, the AGs’ office said, had not yet been assigned.
Questions arose in October about a voter registration form Ortitay filled out in 2013, claiming he had moved into the 46th District on the last day on which he could and still be eligible to run for office. An investigative report published on Marcellus Monitor uncovered documents that cast doubt into whether Ortitay ever actually lived at a Burgettstown home he claimed as his residence on the form.
The report prompted at least one person to file a formal private criminal complaint asking Vittone’s office – which has original jurisdiction – 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.”
Vittone’s decision to punt the case to the Attorney General’s office came after Pennsylvania Democratic Party Chairman Jim Burn called on him 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 last week, 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. State law indicates that a person convicted of voter fraud may not serve as a member of the state Legislature.
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 immediately return a phone message seeking comment on the matter.
Oritay won the election Tuesday against incumbent Rep. Jesse White, a Democrat from Cecil Township, in a Marcellus Shale-centric race.