GOP signature case sent to Cuyahoga CountyWritten by Toledo Free Press Staff Writers | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Lucas County Prosecutor Chief Investigator Frank Stiles has told Toledo Free Press that the investigation into possible signature forgery on Lucas County Republican Party documents has been referred to the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s office.
Stiles said Oct. 26 that the case was sent to Cleveland after he concluded his investigation, because of the “allegations that are flying around” in the Toledo market. He said the Cuyahoga prosecutor would determine if the case should be further investigated or if it should be presented to a grand jury.
In early September, Toledo Free Press sent a letter to the Ohio Secretary of State’s office, outlining local legal maneuvers and information requests the county GOP was making of the Lucas County BOE. That letter expressed concerns that some of those maneuvers could impact the local investigation.
Toledo Free Press (TFP) sent a letter to the Lucas County Board of Elections and Ohio Secretary of State July 30, alerting them to potential inconsistencies among signatures on Lucas County Republican Party campaign finance reports and other official documents.
TFP obtained and compared copies of a voter registration card, designation of treasurer, general fund, building fund, candidate fund and judicial fund documents said to be signed by Lucas County Republican Party Treasurer James Damas. TFP then enlisted three national handwriting experts pro bono to examine the signatures and provide assessments.
The experts viewed digital copies and made cursory assessments based on the assumption that Damas’ voter registration signature is authentic.
“The designation of treasurer on 6-14-08; I don’t think he did that one,” said Eugene Hussey, a handwriting expert in Firecrest, Wash. “The next one down, general fund, I don’t think he did that one, either. And the next one below it, I don’t think he did that one, either, but I think the same person printed the name [next to the signature] … The next one, he might have done that one, designation of treasurer. And below that, general fund again, he might have done that one, too. It’s a pretty good chance he did that one. And the next three — building fund, candidate’s fund and judicial fund — I don’t think he did any of them.”
“It doesn’t look like the same person would have written that [the same way] as the voter registration [form]; it just looks different,” said Terry Davenport, a handwriting expert in Dallas, Texas, regarding a signature on a document titled “General Fund.” Numbers on the forms were also compared.
Mike Robertson, a handwriting expert in North Canton, wrote, “Three of the signatures are within the identifiable range of Damas’ normal genuine writing based on the six documents presented to me … Some people never develop a singular unique style of writing for a variety of reasons … on the other hand differences, not variations, can be a sign of forgery.”
Ohio Revised Code, section 3517.10 states, “The statement of contributions and expenditures shall be signed by the person completing the form.” The statute continues to dictate the means by which electronic transfer of signatures is to be accomplished. Under Ohio law, according to the office of the Ohio Secretary of State, “A fifth-degree felony conviction [of election falsification] may result in a prison sentence of six to 12 months and/or a fine of up to $2,500.”
According to Ohio Secretary of State Press Secretary Jeff Ortega, only a party treasurer or deputy treasurer may sign financial documents. He also said the forms may not be signed by proxy.
Damas did not answer calls to his home or the Lucas County Republican Party headquarters. Party Chairman Jon Stainbrook did not answer calls on his cell phone or the party headquarters. Stainbrook told FOX Toledo July 30 that the concerns raised by the article are “a bunch of baloney.”
In a July 30 letter to Linda Howe, executive director, Lucas County Board of Elections, and David M. Farrell, deputy assistant secretary of state and director of elections, TFP Editor in Chief Michael S. Miller requested the investigation.
“As we are not experts in these matters, we are asking your office to investigate if Mr. Damas’ name was forged on these documents, and what the course of action will be if violations are proven,” Miller wrote.
The examination was prompted by the findings of Glass City Jungle blog owner and TFP fact checker Lisa Renee Ward. Reading several Lucas County Republican Party documents, Ward claimed she observed possible inconsistencies among five signatures made by Treasurer James Damas in a period of time starting July 31, 2008 and ending Jan. 30, 2009.
“People have to have faith in our electoral system, and when something like this happens, it shatters their faith,” Ward said. “If the signatures aren’t really valid, it could possibly have very deep ramifications.”
Ward said she stumbled across the possible discrepancies July 20 while researching claims made in the July 19 Blade article “Republican chief says last vestiges of Noes must go” by Blade staff reporter JC Reindl.
Scrutinizing various documents, she said she detected possible differences between Damas’ signatures in four reports. She said these were the Lucas County Republican Party’s July 31, 2008 general fund report, its Dec. 11, 2008 general fund report, its Dec. 11, 2008 designation of treasurer form and a Jan. 30, 2009 building fund report. In her eyes, she said, something was obviously amiss.
“It is pretty blatant,” Ward said of the contrast between the signatures. “It looked like four different people.”
Ward also researched recent filings by Lucas County Democratic party Treasurer Nancy Norman. No irregularities were observed on those documents.
Interest of transparency
Attorney Jeff Simpson, who is president of the Lucas County Young Republicans Club, was shown the Damas documents by TFP. Stating that he is not a handwriting analysis expert, he said, “It looks like three groups of signatures that are not the same. There is an issue here that needs to be looked at in the interest of transparency, if for no other cause than to reaffirm public trust in the Republican Party. Accusations of fraud and forgery cannot be ignored.”
Derek Merrin, the Republican mayor of Waterville, reviewed the Damas signatures, and in an e-mail statement, said, “The signatures certainly arouse suspicion. A thorough investigation needs to be conducted to ascertain whether the signatures are fraudulent.”
Republican State Senator Mark Wagoner was traveling and could not review the documents, but said, “If there is any question about the authenticity of the signatures, there should be an investigation. I am a law and order guy, and there should be no doubt in the public mind.”