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Deputy county parks chief fired after fraud on election petitions

Erie County's deputy parks commissioner, Nicholas M. Page, was fired by County Executive Joel A. Giambra on Wednesday. The firing came after Page pleaded guilty to an election law misdemeanor involving forged signatures on nominating petitions, including a signature purportedly left by a dead man.

Giambra said that after talking with County Attorney Laurence K. Rubin, he found Page's crime too similar to the one that forced former County Legislator George A. Holt Jr. out of office. Giambra agreed Page had violated his oath to uphold the law and could not remain on the payroll.

Page, 66, of Lowell Road, Town of Tonawanda, and two other county employees pleaded guilty last week to election law misconduct and are expected to receive three years' probation. The others are Page's son, Thomas Page, 25, of Breezewood Commons, Amherst, and Dennis Vitale, 49, of Washington Avenue, Kenmore.

However, Giambra did not dismiss those workers and is not expected to fire other rank-and-file employees who pleaded guilty in the election law matter until he determines whether they are protected by civil service law and can be sanctioned under New York's Public Officers Law.

Several weeks ago, county employees Richard Gritzke, Mark Campanella and Richard J. Syracuse also pleaded guilty to an election law misdemeanor in the case, according to court records. They have not yet been sentenced.

Giambra said that it was a clear decision to fire Page, a management employee he appointed in January 2000 at the start of his first term. Page was being paid $73,112 a year and given a county vehicle for round-the-clock use and a cellular phone, according to county records.

Page was swept up in a district attorney's investigation begun after the Board of Elections found oddities on Republican Party nominating petitions circulated in 2006 for County Judge Michael L. D'Amico. Election examiners had suspected that some signatures were forged. In fact, one signer had actually died weeks earlier.

"A dead person is incapable of signing," Democratic Elections Commissioner Dennis E. Ward deadpanned Wednesday. He said the Board of Elections staff last year became suspicious of signatures on six or seven sheets of an approximately 100-page nominating petition and notified prosecutors.

The petitions were passed primarily in Grand Island, Amherst and in Tonawanda, where Page is an active Republican. Page reported to Parks Commissioner Angelo J. Sedita, who at one time was the town's Republican chairman.

Neither D'Amico, a County Court judge since 1987, nor anyone on his campaign staff was suspected of wrongdoing.

The election law punishes the person who witnesses forged signatures and attests that they are accurate, not the candidate. Rubin, the county attorney, found that Page is a public officer who violated New York's Public Officers Law, which requires public officials to follow the laws of the land.

The Public Officers Law expels officials convicted of a felony, but misdemeanor convictions are less clear. New York's highest court, the Court of Appeals, held that crimes involving "willful deceit or a calculated disregard for honest dealings" automatically expel a public official -- felony or not.

Rubin in January found that Holt had lost his seat representing Buffalo's East Side when he pleaded guilty to keeping $20,000 in sales taxes collected at his Buffalo restaurant. Holt admitted "willfully" filing two false sales tax reports from 2004 and pleaded guilty to two misdemeanors.

Holt says he is running again to be a county legislator.


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