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Shuster challenger discusses charges, petition

April 14, 1998|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - When Democratic congressional candidate Paul Politis was preparing last week for a Monday news conference, he didn't expect his campaign might be helped by a federal grand jury in Boston.

On Thursday incumbent Bud Shuster's former chief of staff was indicted on federal corruption charges stemming from a probe into possible influence peddling.

"I don't want to beat Ann Eppard into the ground because she hasn't been convicted of anything," Politis said Monday.

Eppard, 55, of Alexandria, Va., worked for Shuster until 1994 and currently is a lobbyist.

She was charged with conspiring to violate the federal gratuity statute and defraud the Internal Revenue Service.

Another lobbyist, Vernon A. Clark, 68, of Stateline, Nev., also was charged.

Prosecutors alleged Eppard received $230,000 from Clark or his clients between 1989 and 1993, but never reported receiving the money.

Eppard last week denied the allegations.

Prosecutors allege the payments were related to the "Big Dig," a $10.8 billion highway project in Boston.

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At the time Eppard was Shuster's chief of staff and he was ranking Republican on the House Transportation Committee that he now chairs.

Politis said when such large sums of money are involved in government projects, "there's a lot of temptation to do illegal things."

The McConnellsburg man held the news conference to discuss charges that last month forced him to end his effort to get on the ballot for the May 19 primary. He had with him copies of Shuster's petitions, which he alleged were flawed.

One was dated Feb. 4 by the notary, although the first day to circulate petitions was Feb. 17. Politis said the notary probably wrote down the wrong month, but said he could have challenged the petition on technical grounds. Another had not been notarized, he said.

Politis said no handwriting expert examined the documents but he questioned several petitions, saying addresses and other information appeared to have been filled out by the same person and dates on one petition appeared to have been altered.

Shuster's campaign challenged about 270 of Politis's, 1,175 signatures, claiming some were forged. Politis previously said he "transferred" three signatures from two petitions to another but denied any intentional wrongdoing.

"People make mistakes, problems crop up, people take shortcuts," Politis said of collecting signatures. He said he didn't challenge Shuster's petitions since the GOP candidate had five times the 1,000 signatures needed to get on the ballot.

Politis said he was intimidated into withdrawing from the ballot by Shuster's campaign. Had he gone to court and lost, he said he could have been liable for his opponent's legal expenses.

Politis, who owns a small business, said he's raised just $79 in contributions, while spending about $600 of his own money on the campaign.

Shuster was on a West Coast trip and his office did not return a call for comment, although one staffer from his district office attended the conference at Franklin County Democratic Headquarters.

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