As primary voters cast their ballots on Thursday, the New York State Police announced it had arrested a former staff member for Republican Assemblyman Brian Miller on charges involving forged ballot petition signatures for the Conservative Party line. The investigation was undertaken in conjunction with the Albany County district attorney’s public integrity unit.
Kajus Normantas, the former staff member, pleaded not guilty following his arrest on Wednesday. Normantas had volunteered on the campaign for Miller, who is running unopposed on the Republican, Independence and Reform lines in addition to the Conservative line.
“On September 12, 2018, the New York State Police arrested Kajus Normantas, age 22, of Albany, for five counts of Forgery in the 2nd Degree, a Class D Felony,” the State Police said in a statement issued on Thursday. “Normantas was charged after an investigation revealed that he forged signatures on a Conservative Party designating petition for Assemblyman Brian D. Miller.”
Normantas was arraigned in Albany City Court and released on his own recognizance pending a later court appearance. A State Police spokesman said that the five counts of forgery mean that at least five signatures were found to have been forged.
Following the arrest, Miller distanced himself from Normantas. “I feel that anyone who breaks the law should be held accountable,” the assemblyman said in a statement. “I said that when this issue first arose. I again say that the laws should be followed and those who break it should deal with the consequences. I was not involved in anyway in the actions of this individual and I thank law enforcement for their work to ensure our laws are followed.”
City & State first reported the suspicious signatures in July after a representative from Brian Miller’s Democratic opponent, Chad McEvoy, noticed similarities in the handwriting of different voter signatures among the 171 people whose names were submitted by Miller’s campaign for the Conservative Party ballot line. At the time, over a dozen of those named voters told City & State that they denied they ever signed it, despite their addresses and supposed signatures appearing on Miller’s petitions. Some called it “forgery.”
However, a judge threw out a lawsuit against the Miller campaign questioning the petitions’ validity. Although Normantas had admitted to signing voters’ names, the judge “couldn’t invalidate the entire petition without any evidence that it contained other instances of fraud or that Miller knew about or participated in the forgery,” the Times Herald-Record reported late last month.
As a result, Miller remains on Thursday’s primary ballot for Conservative Party, running unopposed. Miller will face McEvoy, who is unopposed on Democratic, Working Families and Women’s Equality lines, in the general election in November.
Miller currently represents the 101st Assembly District, which snakes through seven counties, meandering 100 miles from the outskirts of Utica to the west of Poughkeepsie.
Out of a total of 171 petition signatures submitted by the Miller campaign, 73 were collected by Normantas, who had been a paid intern for Miller’s government office. Of those 73, City & State called 24 voters listed on the ballot petition who had working phone numbers on file. The 14 people who answered or called back said they had not signed the petitions. Not one voter City & State spoke to said they signed the petition.
According to the state Board of Elections, “73 signatures are required for a valid Conservative petition in the 101st AD.”
Forging signatures on a petition violates several laws, including election and criminal law, and can be prosecuted as a felony. The Miller campaign denied any wrongdoing. Voters, however, were adamant that their names and signatures were signed by someone else, without their consent.
Joan Nason, a Maryland, New York, resident reached out a week ago to say that state troopers had stopped by her home to ask if she had signed the petition.
“Then he shows me the petition, but that’s not the way I sign,” she said. A trooper asked her if she wanted to press charges, Nason recalled.
Nason, who decided to press charges, brings the total to 15 people who answered or called back saying that they had not signed the petitions. To date, no voter City & State spoke to said they signed the petition.
“I wouldn’t want someone to be signing my name to things,” she said, explaining that the Miller’s staffer’s actions should affect how people see the assemblyman. “Your employees reflect on yourself.”
The Miller campaign initially stood behind the signatures. “Signatures were collected properly,” a campaign staffer wrote in an email. But when told several listed voters denied ever signing the ballot petition, the campaign distanced itself from the document. “Those that carried petitions for our campaign maintain that they obtained signatures properly,” the staffer wrote in another email.
A few days later, Miller told the Times Herald-Record that he initially “had no reason to believe any laws or rules were broken,” but that Normantas “took matters into his own hands and may have broken the law.”
“When asked about the validity of several signatures, the individual was repeatedly dishonest with me,” Miller said at the time. “Yesterday, the individual came clean. I will fully cooperate with any ongoing investigation. The individual is no longer working for me or for my campaign.”
In response to the arrest, the McEvoy campaign once again criticized the Miller campaign. “It is deeply concerning that one of Mr. Miller’s legislative staff – paid with taxpayer dollars – has been arrested in conjunction with alleged illegal activities he conducted to the benefit of Mr. Miller’s campaign,” the campaign said in a statement. “At a minimum, it speaks to a lack of vetting and oversight on the part of Mr. Miller. We hope that this will be handled quickly by the courts so that prior to the November 6th election, voters will have the opportunity to know whether or not Mr. Normantas acted on his own in forging the 73 signatures that were submitted, the exact number needed to qualify for the Conservative Party line.”
Editor's note: This post has been updated with a comment from Assemblyman Brian Miller.