The case of an alleged false nominating petition signature made six weeks ago has yet to be investigated because multiple governmental agencies have continued to refer the issue to other offices.
“Everyone seems to passing the buck on this,” said Mike Butera, the solicitor for the Luzerne County Bureau of Elections.
At issue is a claim by state Rep. Jerry Mullery, lobbed against Tony Bonomo, his Democratic opponent in the upcoming primary election, that Bonomo attended a nominating petition signing party at Alden Manor in Newport Township on Feb. 20 and was witnessed signing a name other than his own on Mullery’s nominating petitions. The petitions are required in order for candidates to run for elected office.
Mullery said he believed that knowing an alleged crime was committed, in this case forgery, as an attorney and a member of the legal community he was obligated to report it. He conferred with another attorney, who agreed.
Mullery said he contacted the Luzerne County District Attorney’s office, the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office and the Department of State, which handles elections.
“We haven’t received a referral (from the Luzerne County District Attorney),” said J.J. Abbott, a spokesman for the Attorney General’s office. Other than that, he said he had no comment.
Mullery, on Friday, said he was told by Assistant District Attorney Chester Dudick that the matter was sent to the Luzerne County Election Bureau for review and to conduct an investigation and advise the district attorney’s office whether any crimes were committed.
Butera confirmed this was the case but said the bureau has no criminal prosecution power and is unable to conduct any investigation to reach any conclusion because the nominating petition was filed at the state level since it’s a state office.
“We have no investigation and no findings because we don’t have the petition,” Butera said on Friday. He said the allegations “are not a violation of the election code. It’s an alleged forgery,” which falls under the criminal code.
Butera said he will report his findings to Mullery and Dudick and said he believes Mullery might be better off “just calling the Newport Township Police and report an alleged crime.”
Butera said he was confused as to why what seems like a simple issue that should be investigated has taken so many twists and turns and been passed from office to office.
Mullery, an attorney, agreed.
“It doesn’t make sense (to have election bureaus looking into this). They’re the attorneys; they’re the top law enforcement agency in the county,” he said of the DA’s office. “I’m just following the chain of order I was told to follow.”
Luzerne County District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis said her office referred the issue to the county election bureau because she believes it’s an election-related issue.
“It’s a petition,” she said. “Everyone’s acting like we’re not willing to prosecute. I am willing, but we need to follow the proper steps.”
She said that means the election bureau needs to look into the matter and report its findings from its investigation to her office. If they don’t believe they can do the investigation properly, she said they should contact the Department of State for guidance or assistance.
At this time, she said her office has not been informed of any progress on the investigation and said until a report is filed from the election bureau, she cannot move forward.