Pair Linked To Perzel Effort Are Accused Of Tampering The Phila. Residents Were Paid In A Drive To Get People In The City's 172d District To Register As Republicans.

Posted: November 16, 2000

The District Attorney's Office disclosed yesterday that forgery and tampering charges had been filed against two people who had been part of a voter-registration drive in 1999 launched by state House Majority Leader John M. Perzel.

The two Philadelphia residents, Anna Marie Pirnie, 34, and Ronald Falk, 40, had been paid by a contractor to the Perzel campaign to walk neighborhoods in his 172d District in Northeast Philadelphia urging people to change their voter registration from Democrat to Republican.

They were charged in an affidavit of probable cause with forging change-of-registration forms on behalf of two voters. The formal charges are forgery, tampering with public records, perjury, and altering official documents. Pirnie was arrested Tuesday and Falk was arrested Nov. 2, according to Cathie Abookire, spokeswoman for District Attorney Lynne M. Abraham.

The two defendants could not be reached for comment last night.

Perzel's spokesman, Steve Drachler, said the two apparently had been working for GOP committeeman John Walls and his wife, Margaret, who were paid $7,090 between June and October 1999 by Perzel's campaign fund for "campaign help."

The Walls also run a 120-bed drug-rehabilitation program in Kensington called Fresh Start Now, Drachler said. Both defendants told authorities they had been enrolled in drug rehab at some unspecified time, according to the arrest warrant.

The Walls' operation was part of Perzel's effort to fight a Democratic registration campaign by then-mayoral candidate Marty Weinberg, who was seeking support from conservatives in his 1999 mayoral primary battle with John F. Street.

"Mr. Perzel has made it very clear to anyone in his political organization that they are to obey the law and follow the rules," said Drachler, who said he was not aware of any inquiries to Perzel himself by the District Attorney's Office.

Abookire would not say whether the arrests ended the investigation. She said the matter had been referred to Abraham's office on Feb. 24 by Bob Lee, voter-registration administrator with the City Commissioners' Office.

Lee has said that the probe started when a man showed up at the commissioners' office to complain about a Philadelphia voter ID card on which his signature had been forged.

His office turned over four questionable registration cards, and authorities used handwriting analysis to document that two were forgeries, according to the arrest warrants.

The City Commissioners' Office is currently overseeing a recount of Perzel's narrow victory a week ago over Democrat Mark Chilutti, which is to resume today with officials' opening the voting machines. Democrats yesterday tipped reporters about the arrests, which had not been announced by the district attorney.

"We do sometimes announce arrests, but we don't consider two voter-registration cards a high-profile case," Abookire said.

Ken Dilanian's e-mail address is kdilanian@phillynews.com

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