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Sen. Link campaign workers indicted for forging names on petitions
By Tony Gordon | Daily Herald Staff

Jerry Knight

 

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Published: 8/13/2008 12:44 PM | Updated: 8/13/2008 6:30 PM

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Two men accused of forging signatures on nominating petitions for state Sen. Terry Link were motivated by greed and not political zeal, a prosecutor said Wednesday.

Kenneth Davison, 50, and Jerry Knight, 40, were charged with perjury and forgery by a Lake County grand jury, and arrest warrants call for them to be held on $100,000 bond.

The indictments came nearly eight months after Lake County State's Attorney Michael Waller announced the existence of a criminal probe into the petitions. At the time, Waller said suspicions were raised when the petitions appeared to contain the names of dead people and others who denied signing the forms when questioned by investigators.

Charles Zaler, an attorney with the state Appellate Prosecutor's Office who is handling the case, said Davison, of Waukegan, and Knight, of Zion, were among several people paid to circulate petitions for Link's re-election bid in the 30th District.

"Davison testified before the state board of elections that he got paid by the page," Zaler said. "It appears to us that he was just trying to make more money."

Link, speaking from Springfield, said his campaign allocated $2,500 to pay people to collect names on his nominating petitions. He said he did so because he was busy with legislative business in the capital and was unable to do many day-to-day management functions for his campaign.

"I had to be here, so I could not be there coordinating things," said Link, a Waukegan Democrat who leads the party's Lake County wing and is the Senate majority caucus chairman. "We paid people who were generally unemployed and were trying to help people out."

Questions about Link's petitions and disputed signatures surfaced when former North Chicago mayor Jerry Johnson, who had sought to challenge Link in February's primary election, attempted to knock Link off the ballot. Johnson eventually was removed from the race because of problems with signatures on his own petition, however.

Johnson claimed at least two signatures were the names of dead people. Another bore the name of Shields Township Supervisor Charles Fitzgerald, a Republican who had twice challenged Link for the Senate seat and denied signing the petition.

The election board invalidated 1,600 signatures on Link's petitions, but he still had 1,718 that were ruled legitimate - enough for him to stay on the ballot.

A minimum of 1,000 signatures was needed.

The indictments charge Davison with forging 26 names on nine pages of nominating petitions, while Knight is accused of supplying 36 forged names on 11 pages. Zaler said investigators are unsure how the pair chose the names they forged, but may have done something as simple as "copying them out of the phone book."

Both charges against them are felonies carrying a maximum of five years in prison.

Keith Gray, the Republican challenging Link in the November general election, said Link was responsible for his petitions.

"It shows irresponsibility on Sen. Link's behalf to allow members of his team to engage in ethically questionable, if not downright illegal activities," Gray said in a statement issued by his campaign. "The indictments announced today prove we need a change in leadership in this district and this state and we need it now."

Gray called for Link to withdraw from the upcoming election. So did Dan Venturi, leader of Lake County's GOP organization.

Venturi also pointed out Knight and Davison gathered signatures for several other Democratic candidates in Lake County. No charges have been filed in connection with any of those documents.

Zaler said investigators were satisfied Link played no role in the scheme, and that he cooperated with the probe.

"There is no evidence that the senator had any knowledge of these actions or condoned them," Zaler said. "He has responded fully to our inquires in this matter."

Waller, a Republican, said although investigators from his office conducted the probe, he believed it was appropriate to ask for the appointment of a special prosecutor.

"We asked the Appellate Prosecutor's Office to get involved because of the political element of the offense," he said. "We felt it would remove any appearance of conflict, even though it will be a pretty straightforward forgery and perjury prosecution."

Court records show the indictments are not the first brush with the law for either man.

Davison, also known as Kenneth Davidson in some records, has felony convictions for theft in 1987 and drugs in 1989, and misdemeanor convictions for domestic battery in 1996 and disorderly conduct in 1997. He received probation after each conviction.

Knight pleaded guilty to misdemeanor possession of drug paraphernalia last year and was placed on court supervision for one year.

Authorities were seeking to arrest both men late Wednesday.

Davison is scheduled for arraignment Aug. 27 before Circuit Judge John Phillips, and Knight is to be arraigned Aug. 28 in front of Circuit Judge Fred Foreman.

Daily Herald Staff Writer Russell Lissau contributed to this report.