GOP Clerk Caught in Falsification Scandal Tamburlin Accused of Illegally Changing Dates to Help Candidate
By Frank Parlato
It isn’t often you get a hold of a smoking gun.
But that may be what we have here.
She has the title of clerk of the legislature ($55,000-plus) and is accused of falsification of documents.
That’s the takeaway and it may be a serious and growing scandal.
She is Mary Jo Tamburlin and she is clerk of the Niagara County Legislature, appointed by the Republican majority there.
She is also a longtime Republican loyalist, a member of the Niagara County Republican Executive Committee and former chairman of the North Tonawanda Republican Party.
And, it appears, she may have falsely and illegally notarized three signatures in order to help a Republican-sponsored candidate for the county legislature get a shot at a minor party line, something one hoped might tip the balance in what may be a tight race.
The punishment, if what Tamburlin is accused of doing is true, might be serious.
It may be as little as the loss of her notary license, but it might also mean the loss of her job if she is convicted of what may be a misdemeanor.
New York Executive Law states: “A notary public who, in the performance of the duties of such office shall practice any fraud or deceit, is guilty of a misdemeanor (Executive Law, section 135-a), and may be removed from office.”
The penalties might include fines or worse.
The story behind the alleged false and fraudulent notary acknowledgement is a little complex, but may be worth wading through for an insight into behind-the-scenes Niagara County politics.
It revolves around a fight for the right to be on the ballot on the Working Families Party line, a minor party line in the Niagara County 5th district legislative race.
The contestants for this race are incumbent Jason A. Zona, a Democrat, and a Niagara Falls fireman and challenger Giulio Colangelo, a school teacher at Niagara Falls High School.
Zona is endorsed by the Working Families Party, the fifth line on the ballot. The smallest party in his district, with a mere 55 enrolled members, Zona qualified for the line with more than 45 signatures by enrolled members on petitions.
And, with this, Zona was set to have two lines - Democratic and Working Families - in the upcoming November election.
Colangelo, a member of the Independence Party, has been endorsed by the Republicans and the Conservatives, giving him three lines.
Colangelo, however, sought to take the Working Family line; the thinking being that the Working Families Party is so small that if Colangelo pursued what is called an opportunity to ballot, they could potentially get enough write-in votes to win the primary and snatch the line away from Zona.
Because the party is so small, all Colangelo supporters would need was three signatures from bona fide Working Families Party members and the door would open for a write-in campaign for Colangelo, even though he was neither endorsed by the party nor is he a member of the party.
Because Colangelo is not a member of the party, he could not get signatures himself. By election law, only members of any given party, or a Notary Public or Commissioner of Deeds (because they are sworn officers of the law) may sign off on any party's petitions.
Enter Mary Jo Tamburlin, the Republican's go-to gal for gathering minor party signatures, using her notary seal to make them all legal.
Except maybe not in this case.
Still, the plan was pretty good as far as it went.
If the write-in campaign was allowed, if every Working Family Party member voted, if Colangelo could secure a mere 27 write-ins, he would win an upset primary victory on the Working Family line. Zona's name then would appear only once - on the Democratic line - while Colangelo’s name would appear on four different lines, an impressive psychological advantage as pollsters know.
All of this, by the way, is fair game.
But Tamburlin, in trying to aid Colangelo win the right to stage a write-in campaign, appears to have collected signatures from three town of Niagara men just a day before the deadline for filing occurred.
All three were notarized by Tamburlin as having appeared before her and signed their petition for a write-in on July 18.
And, as mentioned above, in the 5th legislative district, a person needs to secure only three enrolled Working Families member signatures to “open the line” for a write-in candidate.
Curiously, all three of the men Tamburlin secured apparently joined the party on the very date they signed the petition for the write-in ballot.
That is no crime.
Major party operatives frequently try to infiltrate and control minor party lines by enrolling new members.
Here is where it gets tricky.
The July 18 date was the deadline when petitions for opportunity to ballot must be filed.
And while the three men signed their voter registration forms on July 17, they apparently officially joined the party on July 18 when they were logged in at the Board of Elections.
But the true date when they signed the petition, requesting the opportunity to ballot, is where the sickle hits the stone. According to the petition, the men signed them on the 18th, as Tamburlin, a notary, attested under the oath of her notary seal.
She signed and filed the Opportunity to Ballot petition with the Board of Elections on July 18 and it was stamped as received at 4:07 p.m.
The three men's signatures Tamburlin swears to having witnessed were also dated as having been collected on that same day: July 18.
Perhaps had these three men been long time party members, no one would have checked anything out and Tamburlin may have gotten away with it.
But, according to local attorney Johnny G. Destino, neither he nor Zona remembered seeing the three voters’ names on any of their enrolled voter lists prior to that date and that made them suspicious.
“We dropped everything and rushed out to visit these guys. As soon as we verified who they were, each one told us that Giulio Colangelo and Mary Jo Tamburlin came around one or two days before asking them to register Working Families and sign the petition,” said Destino.
“It was obvious the moment I looked at their petition that something wasn’t right,” said Zona.
According to Destino, the petition was filed at the Board of Elections before the gentlemen even got home from work that day, making it doubtful as to when they appeared before Tamburlin to sign the petition on July 18.
All three men, when contacted by Zona and Destino, said the date was false. In three separate sworn statements, copies of which are in the possession of the Niagara Falls Reporter, each one said they signed the petition for the write-in on July 17, which meant they apparently signed the petition before they were actual members of the party.
If true, this would make their signatures on the petition worthless.
And since Tamburlin only collected five total signatures and needed three, the attempt to allow Colangelo to mount a write-in campaign would vanish if their signatures weren't dated July 18.
So despite the three men signing on July 17, a petition they had technically no legal authority to sign on that date, Tamburlin allegedly changed the date to July 18, making, with a stroke of a pen, an unqualified signature into a qualified one.
We reached out to Tamburlin who declined to comment.
Zona reached out to the Sheriff’s Department after securing signed statements from each of the three voters stating that the dates were falsified.
Sheriff investigators are, according to Zona, now investigating to see if Colangelo and Tamburlin violated election law and the Notary Public license law.
“We spent a lot of time securing as many Working Families voters’ signatures in the district as we could find to prevent this type of nonsense,” Zona said. “My plan must have worked for them to have to resort to this. As far as I’m concerned, it’s in the hands of the authorities now and I can get back to doing my job representing the 5th district and running a race based on my record.”
“I know not to put anything past this GOP group - especially Mary Jo. Sooner or later, they will realize they aren’t being given a free pass anymore. This is just the tip of the iceberg too. I am sure we will uncover more irregularities in other candidate petitions, too,” said Destino.
At this early stage it is hard to evaluate how serious this is for Tamburlin or Colangelo.
The alleged activities were, by all accounts, not done on government time or done with government resources. However, if it is true, it was an attempt to subvert the political system and under the color of Tamburlin’s notary license.
Both Destino and Zona felt that Colangelo may have conspired with Tamburlin in the scheme, something Colangelo denies.
In an interview with the Reporter, Colangelo acknowledged that he drove Tamburlin to the homes of the three men and frankly acknowledged that all three men signed the petition on July 17, not July 18, as Tamburlin swore.
But Colangelo said he knew nothing of the dating or filing of the petitions.
In none of the three men's statements is Colangelo mentioned. He did not sign as a witness and did not collect the signatures, although he would have been a beneficiary of the signatures had they been valid.
Zona flat-out disputes Colangelo’s claim that he knew nothing about the dating of the petitions, however. “All three of the voters told us that Giulio was the one carrying the petitions when they were asked to sign it. If Giulio left the date blank then he had to be aware what Tamburlin was up to,” said Zona.
When asked if he knew Tamburlin would file a false document, Colangelo said he absolutely did not.
"I was not in her presence on July 18 when she signed the affidavit with her signatures.
"I would never approve of what she allegedly did. It’s illegal and it's not right. That's not what I'm about. I got into politics because I want to make a difference, become involved with the community, stop the fighting and bickering that is going on and try to run a clean campaign. I absolutely would never have approved it.
“If these allegations are proven, and only if they are proven to be true,” Colangelo said, “I would ask for her to step down as clerk of the legislature.”
"For [Colangelo] to claim ignorance in this fiasco when he was the person handing the petition to the new voters to sign while leaving the date blank... Who is going to buy that he didn’t know what Mary Jo was doing?” questioned Zona.
County Democratic Chairman Nick Forster certainly isn't buying any of it either.
“This was a planned event to defraud the voters,” he said. “But they never thought Jay Zona was going to knock on their doors and discover it.
“And you know what? I think there is a lot more to come. This type of fraud and the no-bid contracts of the dirty dozen (Forster’s pet name for the 12-member Republican majority on the legislature) is a continuation of how they do business. If this is proven, we are going to be asking for [Tamburlin’s] resignation immediately.”
A notary public is a public officer and appointed in New York by the secretary of state. Their main duty is to acknowledge signatures attesting that the signature and the date of the signature are true. Generally speaking, a notary public may be described as an officer of the law.
The New York Notary Public license law states that “unless the person purporting to have made the acknowledgment actually and personally appeared before the notary on the day specified the notary’s certificate that he so came is palpably false and fraudulent.”
That very definition is Tamburlin’s problem.
Even if not found guilty of a misdemeanor, Tamburlin still faces jeopardy under section 130 of the Executive Law, which makes clear that Secretary of State Cesar A. Perales may suspend or remove notaries from office for misconduct.
Under the law, Perales would be required to serve Tamburlin with a copy of the charges against her, and she would be able to demand a hearing on the charges - an arduous and taxing process for both sides.
The married mother, who moved from a long career in factory management to politics more than a decade ago when she was hired by the Republicans at the Niagara County Board of Elections, is, as noted earlier, the GOP’s go-to gal for petitions.
Most, however, agree that these developments leave one of the GOP’s hardest-working operators potentially sidelined in future petition seasons, no matter the outcome of any investigations by Niagara County Sheriff James Voutour, Niagara County District Attorney Michael Violante or Perales.
How this will affect the race between Zona and Colangelo is anybody's guess.
Zona said it is or should be significant to voters because the role Colangelo played in this matter was unethical: “What people need to keep in mind is that my opponent started his campaign claiming that he’s an independent voice that can work around all the political bickering," Zona said. "Yet over and over again we find out that he is deeply intertwined with county Republican’s political heavyweights. Whether it be at political functions, or through financing and petition gathering, political operatives of the county GOP are side by side with Giulio... That's not being independent."
Colangelo, denying he had anything whatsoever to do with false dating of signatures told the Reporter, “I teach business ethics as part of my curriculum, teaching my students to make smart and right business decisions, knowing the difference between right and wrong and how to handle success when they get it, how to do it the right way. I live by what I teach. That’s what being a teacher is about.”
|Niagara Falls Reporter - Publisher Frank Parlato Jr.||www.niagarafallsreporter.com||
Jul 23, 2013