The State Ethics Commission has found that former state Rep. Larry Roberts twice violated the Ethics Act by accepting campaign-related items by mail at his Uniontown district office and by having a Harrisburg employee twice make reservations for a political fund-raiser. The commission also directed Roberts to pay $600 to settle the matter, per the consent agreement of the parties.
According to the order, a "technical violation" of the Ethics Act occurred when campaign materials were sent to Roberts' district office, and a "violation" of the Ethics Act occurred when a Harrisburg employee of Roberts' made arrangements on two separate occasions in 2001 and 2004 to reserve a room at a restaurant to conduct a political fund-raiser, utilizing her capitol office and telephone as a contact point.
In a ruling made public this week, the commission found that between 2000 and 2004, Roberts' district office space, equipment and employees of his district office on Connellsville Street in Uniontown were used by vendors as contact/delivery points for election/campaign-related materials.
The commission also found that the district office telephone and fax machine were used to communicate with these vendors.
Regarding the other violation, the commission said the ethics law was violated twice when a Roberts staff member made arrangements to reserve rooms at a Harrisburg restaurant for fund-raising events.
Contacted for comment Tuesday, Roberts faxed a press release in which he downplayed results of the two-year investigation.
"Having a few campaign related items inadvertently delivered to my office and having one of my employees call to set a date for two fund-raisers is not something I am ashamed of. Nor do I think I could have prevented it. The amount of time involved in these violations is minimal. In fact, the Ethics Commission acknowledged that my staff was instructed several times to no do any campaign related work in the office or while on duty," stated Roberts.
Roberts called the investigation "politically motivated," adding that the "complainer(s) did not get anything near what they wanted. They simply went this route when they did not get what they wanted from the attorney general who completed their investigation and found nothing."
The ruling also found that Roberts did not violate the ethics act regarding utilization of his Connellsville district office, and although a capitol office employee assigned to another legislator notarized several nominating petitions and campaign finance reports, and campaign finance reports were notarized inside Roberts' Uniontown office, that activity was minimal in nature.
Roberts, a Democrat from South Union Township, served seven terms as the representative of the 51st District. He opted not to seek an eighth term last year, and state Rep. Timothy S. Mahoney, D-South Union, took over the seat.
The order outlines actions taken by Roberts' staff members to receive election and campaign materials, including Doris Perno, Tony Perno and Jennifer Roberts (Roberts' daughter-in-law) in Uniontown, as well as Carla Codd in Harrisburg.
The order also states that Roberts did not lease separate campaign facilities from 2000 through 2004, but hired a campaign manager after he suffered a stroke in 2004. According to an article written in August 2004, Roberts said he was hospitalized due to chronic hiccupping that was triggered after he was pressing on the side of his head to alleviate the discomfort of herniated disks in his neck and he "ruptured an artery."
Doris "Toots" Perno was listed as a contact person for several vendors who provided campaign services for Roberts, including W.H. Farewell Company, Upper Room Inc. and Kwik Tickets.
The ruling states that contacts with vendors at times were initiated through Roberts' district office by either Roberts or employees of his district office using telephones in the district office.
Codd, a legislative aide in Roberts' Harrisburg office, made arrangements and served as a contact person for two fund-raising events held by Roberts, at 501 Downtown Club and Scott's Grille. Codd also typed up an invitation flyer announcing the event. The report states Codd was asked by Roberts to prepare the flyers and to "deliver the flyers to the House Democratic Campaign Headquarters on Third Street in Harrisburg where they were reproduced and distributed." Codd took personal leave to file Roberts' nominating petitions and was compensated by Roberts with $100 for campaign-related work performed by her.
The Ethics Commission found that from 2000 through 2004, Roberts' district office fax machine was used on nine occasions to transmit campaign contribution reports for 24 pages with the Bureau of Election.
In March of 2002 and 2004, House members were issued memos from House Parliamentarian Clancy Myer not to use legislative facilities or supplies for re-election purposes and told that any legislative staff assisting with campaign functions can't do that work during normal work hours unless time is deducted. The memo further states that campaign work can't take place in a legislator's Harrisburg or district offices.
The Ethics Commission report states that during the primary election campaign of 2004, Roberts and Mahoney (who was his opponent at the time) challenged signatures on each other's nominating petitions, and Roberts used district office staff and equipment to send letters to constituents requesting their support during the 2004 primary. The letters were sent to individuals who signed Mahoney's petitions and were typed by Doris Perno on her state computer at Roberts' district office.
State Rep. H. William DeWeese, D-Waynesburg, now employs Doris Perno.
Roberts, in his faxed statement, said the two-year investigation included removal of Roberts' office computers, interviews with dozens of his employees, associates and vendors. He said the investigation included more than 2,000 documents, including expense records, phone bills, canceled check and invoices.
"The ethics investigators conduced a very lengthy and thorough investigation and what was found was so minimal that I cannot believe the matter was not dropped. But I had no problem accepting responsibility to the few findings that may have possibly been violations by my staff," Roberts said in a statement.
"At least now I am vindicated. This was a very thorough investigation and the results prove I had nothing to hide. It is also interesting that my former employee who now works for Tim Mahoney is the person who filed the complaint but while working for me signed a letter indicating that we do not do campaign work in our office."