During the investigation, which centered on the sisters’ emails, prosecutors stumbled onto messages Sen. Orie and Melvin sent to the ‘‘angel lady,’’ a Philadelphia psychic who read her client’s written questions aloud before claiming to receive a whispered answer from an angel.
The senator and justice sought assurances from the $85-an-hour medium that Zappala’s investigation wouldn’t result in criminal charges.
But rather than being touched by an angel, the sisters were undone by some nuns.
That happened in late October 2009 — days before Melvin won her Supreme Court seat — when a Senate intern complained to Zappala that Sen. Orie’s staff was doing campaign work for Melvin.
The complaint centered on a letter Sen. Orie wrote on Melvin’s campaign stationery asking Pittsburgh-area nuns to vote for Melvin.
When Orie and Melvin learned of the whistleblowing intern, the senator had a staffer prepare another letter — a ‘‘cover-up’’ letter, according to prosecutors. This time, Sen. Orie — on her own stationery — spoke about civic events of interest to nuns but didn’t mention Melvin.
Prosecutors contend the letter was created to make it appear the intern was simply mistaken about what she saw and was never mailed. Eventually, Sen. Orie’s and Melvin’s staffs told a grand jury about other illegal campaign work done in Orie’s Senate offices and Melvin’s chambers.
‘‘Frankly, it’s a smart group of people. How could they put themselves in this kind of situation?’’ Burkoff said. ‘‘This is the kind of thing we'll be puzzling about for years.’’
Jackson reported from Harrisburg, Pa.