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It’s got to be one of the most stunning episodes of election fraud since the good old days: A candidate for state Assembly–who happens to be a senior-level Board of Elections employee–teams up with campaign workers (who are also Board of Elections employees) in order to collect enough signatures to get him on the ballot.

The result? A petition “permeated with fraud,” in the words of a judge.

The candidate in question is Republican Leonard Wertheim, who was challenging powerful Democratic Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver in the 62nd Assembly District in lower Manhattan.

But upstart Green Party candidate Raymond Dowd, who is running for the same seat, noticed something fishy in Wertheim’s ballot petitions. Every Assembly candidate must collect 500 voters’ signatures–or signatures from 5 percent of the district’s registered voters in that party–in order to get on the ballot. Many of Wertheim’s didn’t look quite right. A lot of them seemed to be in the same handwriting, for one thing. And quite a few women’s signatures suspiciously masculine.

Dowd selected a few dozen for a quick identity check, comparing petition signatures against voter registration cards. What he found was a collection of remarkably sloppy forgeries.

For example: The Wertheim petition includes a signature from voter Allan Schuster, who signs his name there in large, carefully rounded, easily legible letters. But Schuster’s voting card shows how he actually signs his name: with a big capital A, and little else.

“It’s the height of laziness and incompetence in forgery to not even bother to make [the signatures] look alike,” Dowd said. “If they were going to fake it, they could have done a little more work.” His favorite example: petition signatory “Vincent Vallo.” The voter registration card reveals the real voter: a woman by the name of Vincie.

Wertheim’s Assembly hopes ended Thursday, when justice Frank B. Lewis of the Supreme Court threw him off the ballot, citing “signatures which clearly do not match the signatures on the corresponding voter registration records.”

“Forged signatures are not all that uncommon,” said Green Party state chair Craig Seeman. “What makes this frightening is that candidate is currently employed by the Board of Elections, compounded by the fact that several of the people who collected signatures for him are also Board of Elections employees.” But when City Limits contacted Sherry Schoenfeld, a Board of Elections employee whose name appears as a signature gatherer on Wertheim’s petition sheets, she said: “I have no idea what you’re talking about.” Repeated calls to the Board’s press office were not returned.

Although it may seem like a classic case of the fox guarding the henhouse, it is not surprising that some Board of Elections employees may have a political axe to grind, says Neal Rosenstein of the New York Public Interest Research Group–nearly all its employees are appointed by party leaders. “A lot of people don’t realize that it’s all patronage hires,” said Rosenstein. “We think the board has made tremendous strides, but that’s still a concern.”

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