Police open investigation into Saratoga petitions

Police open investigation into Saratoga petitions

Saratoga police looking into allegations of fradulent signatures on city GOP petitions

Photo of Wendy Liberatore

SARATOGA SPRINGS – City police have opened an investigation into alleged forged signatures on independent nominating petitions witnessed by City Council candidate Samantha Guerra.

City police spokesman Robert Jillson, as well as State Police, acting as the assisting agency, said they couldn’t discuss the investigation or if it involved anyone other than Guerra, who is running for commissioner of accounts. The petition signatures in question, which were for all seven Republican candidates, were meant to secure a third line (Saratoga United) on November's ballot.

“We have been proceeding along and looking into the allegations,” Jillson said. “There are the petitions and we are looking at the circumstances around that.”

The city's Republican Committee Chairman Chris Obstarczyk said that the investigation is politically motivated, led by current Commissioner of Public Safety Robin Dalton who is now running for mayor.

"The ethical – and normal course of action – would be to send to a different investigatory agency and a different prosecutor outside of the county," Obstarczyk said in an email. "The police department is politically conflicted because the lead investigator on this case is first in line for an upcoming promotion that would be awarded by mayoral candidate Robin Dalton. The investigator was put in a terrible, political pressure-cooker situation overseen by Robin Dalton. This is a clear-cut political hit job."

Guerra said in an email that the investigation is an underhanded tactic brought on by her opponent, Democratic candidate Dillon Moran.

"It's one of the very reasons why I jumped into this race because Saratogians have had enough of the divisiveness and negativity," Guerra said. "If anything, this provides voters a clear-cut choice between classless and someone who's in it for the right reasons.” 

Despite Republicans gathering signatures for the Saratoga United line on the ballot, it will not appear because most candidates are already on the three lines maximum allowed on a ballot in New York. GOP candidates will be on the Republican and Conservative lines with some on Working Families Party line.

However, that is not how Mark Pingel, who filed a complaint with police about the signatures, sees it. 

“The pages that appear to have the irregularities, that I am aware of, were signed by Samantha,” Pingel said. “The police might have found more irregularities. ...What is surprising to me, if you are going to cheat, at least do it competently. It's not right.”

Moran, who is also running against the Accountability Party's Angela Rella, brought the forgery allegations to light in a press conference on Sept. 15. To verify the claims, the Times Union investigated and found at least two people who said their signatures were not theirs and other irregularities, including an address that doesn’t exist.

Since then, another person, whose signature appeared on the petitions, signed an affidavit swearing that it is not his signature on page 16. That signature was also collected by Guerra, who gathered 17 pages of signatures (all but one full) of the 40-page petition.  Most of the seven candidates on the petition gathered only a few pages, at most, and few of those were filled.

On Monday, Moran said he couldn’t comment.

“I have been advised by SSPD that this is an ongoing criminal investigation and therefore have no comment,” Moran said.

Guerra's attorney, Oscar Schreiber, agreed with Obstarcyzk, saying that the investigation should be moved out of the county.

"It is my opinion that this case should be investigated by an impartial, out of county agency that would avoid any claims of conflict of interest or the appearance of impropriety," Schreiber said. "This matter has already been ruled by the Saratoga County Board of Elections, which ruled the petitions are valid. Usually a matter such as this is resolved civilly. The complainants have not exhausted their administrative remedies and seek to have law enforcement do their work for them.”

Because the controversial signatures, which were intended to help Republicans get a third line on November's ballot, were validated by the Board of Elections, three Saratogians, including Pingel, sent a certified letter dated June 10 to Saratoga County District Attorney Karen Heggen asking her to investigate the signatures. Pingel said the three never heard back from the Republican district attorney, thus their reason for going public. Heggen has not indicated why she did not address their concerns.

Pingel said not hearing back from Heggen was disappointing. 

“Every member of the voting public is hurt when the integrity of an election is called into question,” Pingel said. “We have seen it on the national level. It’s really sad we now see at the local level.”

He also said he would hope that the GOP would welcome the investigation.

“I would think the Republican slate would want an investigation so that any hint of impropriety can be removed from their campaign,” he said. “The lack of investigation allows for a lot more speculation and controversy.”