Disgraced Senator Denies Guilt, Forgeries

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    NEWSLETTERS

    AP
    In this May 18, 2012 file photo Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin, speaks to reporters outside Pittsburgh Municipal Court after a hearing on charges she illegally used her state-funded staff to perform campaign work.

    Former Pittsburgh-area Republican state Sen. Jane Orie still insists she's innocent of corruption and forgery charges that sent her to prison for nearly two years.

    Orie, 52, issued those denials in the first part of an exclusive interview with WTAE-TV that aired Monday night, her first public comments since her 2012 conviction and release from prison in February.
     
    Orie said other inmates continued to address her as ``senator'' at state prisons in Muncy and, later, Cambridge Springs where she served the bulk of her sentence, about two hours north of her home in Pittsburgh's North Hills suburbs.

    Orie was sentenced to 2 to 10 years in 2012, but was released after serving 75 percent of her minimum sentence under state rules for non-violent first offenders.
     
    "For me, it was hell on earth," Orie said.
     
    Orie was convicted of 14 counts including theft of services, conflict of interest, and forgery. The forgery charges stemmed from documents she and defense attorney William Costopoulos introduced at her first trial in 2011 that were meant to discredit a key witness, prompting a mistrial.
     
    "Unequivocally, no, I didn't commit those forgeries," Orie said. Prosecutors never proved who created the documents, but Orie became criminally responsible when she vouched for their authenticity during her trial testimony.
     
    "Whoever did those forgeries either did it because they thought they were helping me, or the more scarier thought is they did it to really hurt me."
     
    The conviction on the non-forgery charges stemmed from Orie using her state-funded legislative staff to perform campaign work for her.
     
    She continued to explain away that portion of her conviction, saying a "Senate rule allowed them to do campaign work on comp time in the office on their own cellphones, on their phones, that was the main crux of what I was convicted of."
     
    But Allegheny County prosecutors produced evidence that Orie required the work in her office, on state time, and had workers claim to use comp time only after she learned of the investigation.
     
    Nobody answered the phone at Orie's home Tuesday, and Costopoulos - who wants the state Supreme Court to review a Superior Court decision upholding Orie's conviction - didn't immediately return a call.
     
    District attorney's spokesman Mike Manko criticized the interview.
     
    "To publish this defendant's misstatements of the evidence in this case at this time is offensive to the jury process," Manko said.