Pendleton Supervisor James A. Riester and 7th District Niagara County Legislature candidate William Boulden will enter the fall campaign season with a criminal investigation hanging over their heads.
District Attorney Matthew J. Murphy III said Tuesday that he finds "sufficient evidence" to begin a full-scale investigation into allegations of nominating petition fraud against Riester and his wife, Ann; County Democratic Chairwoman Cindy G. Lenhart; Wilson Councilman Edward A. Hastings; and another figure he would not identify.
However, GOP Elections Commissioner Scott P. Kiedrowski and County Attorney Claude A. Joerg told The Buffalo News last week of allegations of forgery on a Boulden petition, and Murphy did not deny that this also was being probed. All those under investigation are Democrats, as is Murphy.
Murphy said the investigation will give him grounds to decide whether to present evidence to the grand jury, seek misdemeanor charges or close the cases.
Riester's wife signed a witness statement on a petition seeking a write-in primary for supervisor on the Republican line, in an unsuccessful effort to take that line away from his opponent, former Supervisor Richard A. Brauer.
However, State Supreme Court Justice Richard C. Kloch Sr. ruled, in invalidating the petition last month, that Ann Riester did not gather all the signatures, which is what the witness statement is meant to certify. Three voters testified that her husband took their names.
Patrick J. Brown, attorney for the Riesters, said he has spoken with Murphy about the case, but he declined to comment further.
Similar problems arose with Hastings' petitions for Wilson supervisor; he signed a witness statement for signatures he did not gather. Kloch removed him from the ballot. "I don't think I did anything criminal," said Hastings, who took the Fifth Amendment when testifying before Kloch.
Lenhart signed a witness statement for a petition seeking an Independence Party write-in primary for 7th District legislator, in which Boulden sought to challenge incumbent Gerald K. Farnham for that line.
However, she did not gather the maximum 25 signatures on the form, so Boulden gathered more signatures after Lenhart had signed the witness statement. Kloch disallowed the petition.
"There may have been some mistakes, but there was never any intention to fool anyone," Lenhart said. "I wish there was more focus on the candidates and their ideas than on the process."
Boulden has another problem with his nominating petition for the independent Save Jobs Party line. Timothy P. Murphy, a former assistant district attorney, told Joerg that he never signed the petition, even though his name appears on it.
Timothy Murphy, no relation to Matthew Murphy, said last week that he talked with investigators and alleged that a forgery had occurred. However, Nancy L. Smith, Democratic elections commissioner, said that she compared the signature with that on Timothy Murphy's voter registration card and that they looked the same to her.
"For some reason, they want to play hardball for my office," said Boulden. He said the Save Jobs petition was carried by Matthew J. Bova, a 2004 Democratic candidate for state senator who ran as an independent for North Tonawanda mayor in 2003.