Saratoga Springs

State police charge Saratoga Springs candidate with election fraud; city police refute claim of acting as hired gun during investigation

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SARATOGA SPRINGS – A Republican candidate for commissioner of accounts was charged by state police Friday with two counts of election fraud after city police asked state authorities to assist with the investigation.

Samantha Guerra stands accused of presenting invalid signatures on two nominating petitions to the Saratoga County Board of Elections. Guerra, 36, remains in contention for the commissioner seat after last week’s election.

She allegedly hadn’t witnessed the signing of the petitions.

Before this 2021 election, a state police spokeswoman said state police from Troop G last levied election fraud charges in Queensbury in 2018.

Guerra’s opponent, Democrat Dillon Moran, held a press conference in September showing what he said was evidence of forgery, and he accused Guerra of attesting to forged signatures.

Moran leads the election, with 3,689 votes to Guerra’s 3,507. But the county Board of Elections is still tallying absentee ballots – 425 of the 858 absentee ballots in Saratoga Springs had been received.

In a statement, Chris Obstarczyk, chairman of the Saratoga Springs Republican Committee, called the investigation “a political hit job” by Moran and his advisers 45 days before the election. 

“The investigation was then handed off to the Saratoga Springs Police Department, which is headed by Anti-Republican Public Safety Commissioner Robin Dalton and was politically compromised and tampered with by her and others so much so that the Saratoga Springs Police Department was removed from the case,” his statement read.

A city police spokesman said that statement is untrue. 

Saratoga Springs Police Department spokesman Lt. Bob Jillson said he initiated the initial investigation after Moran’s press conference.

Jillson said no one in law enforcement knew about the allegations until Moran held the news conference.

“I talked with our chief and said, ‘Hey, this is out there. We should look into it. It’s the city and we’re the city police,’ ” said Jillson, who conducted multiple interviews on the matter. 

Jillson said state police, at the request of city police, assisted with the investigation because, as a small community subject to “small-town politics,” the notion that Jillson had acted as Dalton’s “hired gun” was ever-present.

“When that started coming out, I had further conversations with the chief and said we should probably just give this all to the state police,” Jillson said. “We always knew it could go that way. So we turned it all over to the state police. The investigator that was working with me, and then his seniors – they looked over everything a second time, and it ended up with them charging her this past Friday.”

Obstarczyk said the investigation “was handed off to the state police who merely rubberstamped this politically tainted investigation.”

“What is clear from this political witch hunt and tainted investigation is that there was no fraud,  there was no forgery and what remains is a minor Election Law allegation akin to failing to renew a drivers license the remedy of which could have been pursued through the normal Election Law procedure.” 

Pat Tuz, chairwoman of Saratoga Springs Democratic Committee, said she remains concerned about the allegations.

“My job is to do everything possible to maintain our system of free and fair elections on a local level,” Tuz said. “Right now, it is in the hands of higher agencies and I trust that they will be continuing to investigate the forgeries.”

According to Trooper Kerra Burns, state police assigned to Troop G had previously arrested a Queensbury couple – Town Supervisor John Strough and his wife Christianne Strough – for allegedly filing false petitions in Warren County in March 2018.

The Stroughs were charged with petitioning for signatures on the Conservative party line without a witness or notary public present to verify the signatures of Conservative party members.

Said Obstarczyk: “This charge is rarely charged if at all. I spoke to several election attorneys throughout the state and they were unaware of it ever being charged. 

“What the Democrats have essentially done is criminalized the petition carrying process while ignoring the normal election law procedure thereby creating a dangerous precedent for subsequent election cycles.”

Contact reporter Brian Lee at [email protected] or 518-419-9766.

Categories: News, Saratoga County

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