El Paso County District Attorney Dan May's office filed charges of forgery, perjury and attempt to influence a public servant against a person who was paid to gather signatures during the recall petition drive in Colorado Springs last summer.
Nickolas James Robinson, 21, was paid $728 for collecting 364 voter signatures to force a recall election of Sen. John Morse, D-Colorado Springs, according to an arrest affidavit from the 4th Judicial District Attorney's Office.
Of those signatures, an investigator found 13 were likely forged because either the individual stated they had not signed the petition or in one case the individual had died two years earlier.
Christy Le Lait, who ran the campaign to keep Morse in office, filed a formal complaint that involved 28 questionable signatures and five petition gatherers.
"Everybody needs to be aware of who is out there collecting signatures and the people who are getting paid to get these signatures need to be honest about it," Le Lait said. "This is a felony, forging names on a petition. It's not just something they can do to earn money. It is a crime, and they will get arrested for it."
Lee Richards, spokeswoman for the district attorney, said these are the only charges expected at this time.
Of the 28 questionable signatures turned in, six individuals "recanted their earlier statements" and told investigators they had indeed signed the petition to recall Morse, according to the arrest affidavit.
More than the required number of signatures were turned in and deemed valid to put Morse on the ballot for recall. Voters in Senate District 11, which includes most of central Colorado Springs, voted in September to kick Morse out of office and replace him with Sen. Bernie Herpin, a Republican.
Signature gatherers must sign an affidavit at the bottom of the petition assuring that under penalty of perjury the signatures belong to the individuals named.
Robinson was employed by Kennedy Enterprises in Colorado Springs to gather signatures for the recall effort.
Dan Kennedy didn't return a phone call and e-mail from The Gazette requesting comment, but told investigators that Robinson had been fired after he turned in a petition that appeared to be forged and that petition was not accepted.
Signature gatherers are given a 90-minute training session by Kennedy Enterprises before they are sent out to work, during which time they are told about the law.
"I think it does create an incentive to cheat," Le Lait said, noting that in the recall effort against Sen. Evie Hudak, the price got up to $5 a signature.
Hudak, D-Arvada, resigned before signatures were turned into the Secretary of State's Office.
"These people forged signatures that led to an election that led to the recall of a state senator. There's got to be a higher standard," Le Lait said. "If we were able to look at these petitions and immediately pick up which ones have been forged . what are the requirements we have at the state level in terms of verifying these signatures."
Of the roughly 16,000 signatures turned in to recall Morse, just over 10,000 were valid. Only 7,178 were needed to put the issue on the ballot.
Andrew Cole with the Secretary of State's Office said the agency is diligent about making signatures publicly available for scrutiny.
"There's a challenge provision that's part of the verification process and it's unfortunate that they didn't bring this information to us at that point but waited until afterwards," Cole said.
The challenge period is 15 days from the time that the Secretary of State deems the signatures sufficient to force a recall election.
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