By Keith Eddings
---- — Click HERE to read the handwriting analyst's report.
LAWRENCE — The city’s longest-serving election official signed the names of at least four people on nominating petitions circulated by the campaign of Frank Moran, the City Council president running for the Statehouse, a forensic handwriting expert hired by The Eagle-Tribune concluded.
The official, Rafael Tejeda, also used his position to certify the signatures were valid, said Ronald Rice, a Plymouth resident who has analyzed penmanship used as evidence in some of the nation’s most infamous civil and criminal cases over the last 35 years.
“Mr. Tejeda is the author of the other four hand-printed signatures,” Rice said about the signatures on Moran’s petitions bearing the names of four people who share Rafael Tejeda’s Greenwood Street house or live on the same North Lawrence block.
“The style, slant and flow of the five hand-printed signatures and addresses are the same,” Rice said, adding that the four signatures match the penmanship of Tejeda’s own signature on Moran’s petitions and on his voting card on file at the city’s Election Division.
Only one of the four people whose names Tejeda allegedly signed could be reached last week. The woman, who is ineligible to vote because she is a citizen of the Dominican Republic, said she did not sign Moran’s petition.
Tejeda denied signing the names. He said he signed his own name to Moran’s nominating petition when a woman approached him in his driveway sometime in March, and said he then directed her to other voters in the house.
“I said, ‘Go inside and get other signatures, but I left,’” Tejeda said. “I’m 100 percent sure I didn’t sign any other signatures. I don’t know who did it, but I didn’t sign it.”
If proven, this would add another episode to the troubled and tumultuous history of voting in Lawrence dating back at least to the 1990s, when the city settled charges of racial discrimination in election practices brought by the U.S. Justice Department.
The city settled the charges by agreeing to several reforms, including hiring a bilingual coordinator to assist Spanish-speaking voters, a position Tejeda has held since he joined the Election Division on Jan. 21, 2002.
The state ordered more reforms in 2006, and two years ago City Clerk William Maloney found a string of “irregularities and misconduct” at a polling place that cost an election warden his job.
Maloney, who oversees the city’s Election Division, would not comment on the allegations that one of the division’s three employees signed names on petitions that put a statehouse candidate on Tuesday’s ballot.
“What you’re suggesting has possible criminal implications,” Maloney said. “Certainly, any complaint or any allegation would have to be investigated.”
Brian McNiff, a spokesman for Massachusetts Secretary of State William Galvin, who oversees elections statewide, also would not comment on the alleged bogus signatures. Ronald Martin, the chairman of Lawrence’s Board of Registrars, which must sign off on nominating petitions for local and state offices before candidates can reach the city’s ballot, also would not comment.
Moran said he collected several of the 180 or so signatures on his nominating petition, but said he did not carry the sheet that bears Tejeda’s signature and the four signatures in question. He said about 20 volunteers also carried his petitions, but could not say which of them collected the sheet with the contested signatures.
“I think Rafael (Tejeda) is a great person,” Moran said. “Good character. I don’t think he’d do something like that.”
The similar signatures were brought to attention of The Eagle-Tribune last week by Kevin Cuff, who is running as an independent against Moran, a Democrat and a three-term city councilor. Cuff said he was going to challenge the signatures last spring, but did not have the resources and let the June 1 deadline for challenges pass without acting.
The two men are running in the 17th Essex House District, made up of parts of Lawrence, Andover and Methuen. The district is now represented by Paul Adams, who is giving up the seat to run for the state Senate.
Moran described Cuff’s allegations as a “Hail Mary,” using a football metaphor that refers to a long pass with little chance of success thrown by a frantic quarterback running out of time.
“It’s lies, what he’s saying,” Moran said. “It’s desperation on his part.”
Cuff said the five similar signaturesare among several “red flags” he said he noticed on Moran’s petitions last spring. He said he suspects all of the 180 or so signatures were signed by just five or six people.
“There’s a consistent pattern,” Cuff said. “I believe the same few hands signed all the papers ... It looks pretty damn goofy.”
The four voters whose names may have been faked include Alejandrina Reyes of 71 Greenwood St., who is a citizen of the Dominican Republic and so is not eligible to vote in the United States. In an interview in her kitchen last week that was translated by her daughter, Reyes said she did not sign Moran’s petition.
Although Reyes is not on Lawrence’s voter rolls, her signature on Moran’s nominating petitions was checked off as valid by one of the three workers in the Election Division who are charged with cross-checking names on nominating petitions with voter roles.
Tejeda is among the three who carry out that task, but he said he did not know which of them certified Reyes’ signature when his office approved Moran’s petitions in April.
Election clerks do not sign the petition sheets they validate. However, the penmanship verifying the sheet of signatures that includes Tejeda’s signature and the four signatures in question is Tejeda’s, Rice said.
The other people whose signatures Tejeda allegedly signed on Moran’s petitions include Norma Fuerte, who is the sister-in-law of Tejeda’s wife and lives in the same building as the Tejeda family. Fuerte has been in the Dominican Republic since Oct. 17, said Adalgisa Tejeda, who is Rafael Tejeda’s wife. Fuerte could not be reached.
Election Division records indicate that Fuerte voted by absentee ballot in October. City Clerk Maloney declined to release the signed envelope containing Fuerte’s ballot until Mayor William Lantigua approved the request for the document.
Lantigua did not respond to a message left at his City Hall office on Friday.
A third signature Tejeda allegedly signed is Narciso Mejia’s, whose signature appears beside an address that Rice said Tejeda also wrote on the petition. The address provided is 79 Greenwood St., a building that does not exist. Mejia lives at 83 Greenwood St., city records show. She could not be reached.
The fourth signature allegedly signed by Tejada is Ignacio Santos of 91 Greenwood St. He could not be reached.
“The individual letter stroke characteristics, printing habits and idiosyncrasies of Mr. Tejeda are the same” in the four signatures Tejada allegedly signed, Rice, the forensic handwriting expert, said in his report to The Eagle-Tribune. “These (are) specifically noted as, but not limited to, the following: The hand-printed capital A’s, D’s, E’s, J’s, N’s, R’s (and) the hand-printed lower-case i’s, r’s. These factors . . . reflect the unconscious printing habits of Rafael Tejeda.”
Besides verifying signatures on nominating petitions, Tejeda’s duties as the Election Division’s bilingual coordinator include translating voting documents into Spanish and ensuring that each of the city’s 24 polling places are staffed by people who speak Spanish. He earns $30,336 annually.
Tejeda’s 11 years in the Election Division make him the senior employee in the office, although none of the three is ranked above the other.
Rice has analyzed penmanship for defendants, prosecutors and news organizations in several of the nation’s most infamous cases over the last four decades, including the O.J. Simpson murder trial in Los Angeles in 1995 and the string of murders in San Francisco in 1968 and 1969 carried out by the so-called Zodiac killer.
TO REPORT VOTING IRREGULARITIES, FRAUD OR DISCRIMINATION ON ELECTION DAY
City of Lawrence Election Division, 978-620-3230
United States Attorney’s Office, 617-748-3100
Federal Bureau of Investigation, 617-742-5533
U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, 800-253-3931