EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

January 10, 2013

Probe of suspicious signatures scrapped

By Keith Eddings
keddings@eagletribune.com

---- — LAWRENCE — On a day when Attorney General Martha Coakley announced she is bearing down on allegations of campaign irregularities at City Hall, Secretary of State William Galvin announced he is backing off.

Galvin will not investigate allegations that city election official Rafael Tejeda faked signatures on nominating petitions for state Rep. Frank Moran last year, a spokesman for Galvin said yesterday.

Spokesman Brian McNiff said Galvin and his aides, who oversee elections in Massachusetts, did not review the petitions or interview Tejeda, but pointed out that Tejeda denied the allegations in a story raising questions about the signatures published by The Eagle-Tribune on Nov. 4.

The newspaper hired a forensic handwriting expert to examine five signatures on Moran’s petitions — including one allegedly by a woman who lives next door to Tejeda and is not a U.S. Citizen — after Moran’s opponent for the 17th Essex House seat brought the alleged fakes to the newspaper’s attention.

The expert, Ron Rice of Plymouth, concluded that Tejeda signed all five of the signatures, then used his position as an election official to fill in boxes at the bottom of the petition sheets validating the signatures. Tejeda himself also signed Moran’s petitions.

“Forging the names of voters to nomination papers is a serious matter,” McNiff said in an email yesterday. “But after reviewing accounts of the allegedly forged signatures on nomination papers of a candidate for state representative in Lawrence, reported the weekend before the Nov. 6, 2012 election, the accounts, which include a denial from the alleged perpetrator, remain simple (sic) that, allegations.”

McNiff also said the deadline has passed for challenging the signatures and added that forensic handwriting analysis “does not always prevail” when the state Ballot Law Commission considers allegations that signatures were faked.

The Eagle-Tribune did not file a challenge against the signatures with the Secretary of State.

The decision not to investigate the allegations was a reversal for Galvin, who through a spokesman told the Statehouse News Service on Nov. 5 that he would look into the allegations after the Nov. 6 election.

Yesterday, McNiff said the effort went no further than reading the Eagle-Tribune story.

The story and the pictures of the signatures that accompanied it prompted City Clerk William Maloney and city Personnel Director Frank Bonet to ask Mayor William Lantigua to place Tejeda on paid leave until Galvin completed the investigation he promised.

“I suggested to the mayor that (Tejeda) be placed on suspension with pay pending any review that might be coming, particularly from the state,” Maloney said yesterday.

Lantigua rejected the suggestion because he said Tejeda had not been officially charged with wrongdoing. He added that the Election Division could not afford to lose one of its three employees on the eve of a presidential election.

Lantigua did not return a phone call yesterday.

Tejeda did not respond to a message left on his voice mail at the Election Division in the basement of City Hall, where he is a bilingual coordinator.

Lantigua has proposed redefining the position to expand its responsibilities and increasing the salary from the $30,000 Tejeda now earns to as much as $55,000.

Moran yesterday reiterated his belief that the newspaper story was only an attempt to damage his candidacy for the statehouse seat, which he won with 62 percent of the vote against independent challenger Kevin Cuff.

He also reiterated his demand that the newspaper examine the signatures on Cuff’s nominating papers, but made no allegation that they contained faked signatures or other irregularities. Moran also is president of the Lawrence City Council, a position he is retaining while also serving as a state representative.

Cuff said Galvin’s decision not to look at Moran’s petitions “speaks volumes of the lack of accountability and common sense out of the Secretary of State’s office.”

“You don’t need a handwriting expert, you don’t need a specialist,” Cuff said. “If you look at them, you know that they’re fraudulent. My 9-year-old daughter looked at it and she knows it’s fraudulent.”

He added, “Most importantly, how we are going to go forward to conduct future elections, particularly an upcoming mayoral election, knowing that the city election department is corrupt?”

Rice, the forensic handwriting expert, said he stood by his analysis. He expressed surprise that the investigation Galvin promised stopped at Tejeda’s denial of wrongdoing.

“I would expect him to deny that he authored the signatures,” Rice said. “In 35 years, I don’t think I’ve had anyone acknowledge that they (committed) forgery.”