Niagara Gazette

September 13, 2013

Erie County DA will not prosecute Niagara County Legislature Clerk Mary Jo Tamburlin

By Mark Scheer mark.scheer@niagara-gazette.com
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Niagara County Legislature Clerk Mary Jo Tamburlin will not face prosecution for allegations of petition fraud brought by members of the local Democratic Party.

Erie County District Attorney Frank Sedita Jr.’s office confirmed this week that it will not pursue prosecution against Tamburlin because it lacked evidence to prove criminal intent in the case.

Niagara County Democratic Party leaders called for the Niagara County Sheriff’s Office to investigate Tamburlin’s handling of election petitions filed by Giulio Colangelo, a candidate in this year’s race for the legislature’s 5th District.

In July, Colangelo’s opponent, current 5th District lawmaker Jason Zona, filed a complaint with the sheriff’s office accusing Tamburlin of misusing her powers as a notary public in an effort to help Colangelo secure a minor party line on the election ballot.

Zona and Niagara County Democratic Committee Chairman Nick Forster accused Tamburlin of altering the dates on three opportunity to ballot petitions filed by Colangelo’s campaign in an effort to give the candidate a better chance at securing the Working Families Party ballot.

Through the opportunity to ballot process, candidates can attempt to steal a party line away from their opponent by obtaining a majority of write-in votes during the September primary. Due to the relatively low number of registered Working Families Party voters in the district, Colangelo needed just five signatures on an opportunity to ballot petition to qualify for a write-in campaign. This year, the board of elections required petitions for opportunity to ballot to be filed by July 18.

Individuals who are not members of the party in question are not allowed to secure signatures from registered party voters as part of the opportunity to ballot process. A notary public, such as Tamburlin, or a commissioner of deeds, can, under the law, attest to the accuracy of any party’s petitions.

The Democrats secured affidavits from three of the five people who signed Colangelo’s opportunity to ballot petition. In copies of the affidavits supplied to the Niagara Gazette, the three Town of Niagara men state that their signatures dated July 18 as notarized by Tamburlin were “in fact” signed by them on July 17.

At the time the three Town of Niagara men were approached for their signatures, Forster said they were not affiliated with the Working Families Party. According to Forster, the three men were approached about registering with the party and filled out registration forms to do so.

The Democrats argued that the petition should be invalidated as, based on the affidavits, the three men who signed it had no authority to do so on July 17 because they weren’t formally registered as members of the Working Families Party until July 18.

At the time, Colangelo confirmed that he did receive help in securing petition signatures from Tamburlin, but insisted he had nothing to do with the actual notarization or filing of the petition on July 18. He also said he was not aware of any potential improprieties in connection with the filing of the petition.

The case was reviewed by sheriff’s office investigators and turned over to Niagara County District Attorney Michael Violante, who had it transferred to Sedita’s office to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest. As a member of the Niagara County Republican Party Executive Committee, Tamburlin has been involved in election campaign efforts involving Violante.

On Thursday, Zona expressed disappointment about Sedita’s decision.

“He’s not disputing the case,” Zona said. “He’s saying it’s hard to prove criminal intent there.

“I’m not an attorney. I can’t tell a district attorney what cases he can pursue and can’t pursue.”