John J. Lorenzo, chairman of Rostraver Township commissioners, is accused of using prepaid, disposable “burner” phones and setting up fake Facebook accounts to harass political opponents and rivals for more than two years, according to criminal complaints filed Tuesday.
A yearlong investigation started after fellow Commissioner Gary N. Beck Sr., a Democrat, complained to police that someone had set up a Facebook account “in his name, using photographs of him in various activities and demographic information.”
Township police and a Westmoreland County detective learned that Beck didn’t have a Facebook account.
“Mr. Beck said the messages are not a true representation of his opinion or political views,” according to the complaint filed against Lorenzo, 42, by township police Sgt. Daniel Cope and county Detective John Mandarino.
Investigators eventually found evidence that Lorenzo was administrator of the account. They obtained a search warrant to verify account records and obtain access to text messages allegedly sent by Lorenzo in Beck’s name.
On Nov. 5, 2019, when Lorenzo was elected, the account in Beck’s name sent out numerous private messages to individuals asking that they vote “for my good friend John Lorenzo.”
Lorenzo, after being elected, switched his party affiliation from Democrat to Republican.
Beck also reported receiving unsolicited text messages over the period that he described as “annoying,” including complaints over decisions regarding a nearby landfill.
One text read: “You allow it to happen. You have let us all down … how can you sleep at night?”
Investigators allege Lorenzo sent multiple anonymous messages to Beck over months “using three burner numbers to mask his true identity,” according to court documents.
Lorenzo denies allegations
Lorenzo denies any wrongdoing.
“These accusations will not define who I am. I never thought politics could sink to these depths. These lies have absolutely devastated my family and has my livelihood in jeopardy,” he said in a statement to the Tribune-Review. “But make no mistake about it, the truth will come out in the end, and I will be vindicated. I have not done anything wrong nor broken any laws.
“This is all a dirty political driven stunt with a false narrative to smear my name. This is what happens when you do good in the community and a select few want to see you fail and fall.”
Lorenzo was arraigned on multiple charges of harassment by communication, criminal use of a communication device, unlawful use of a computer and unlawfully intercepting electronic communications. He is free on $40,000 unsecured bond. A preliminary hearing is scheduled Dec. 13.
“I bleed the Rostraver green and white and will continue to serve the residents of the community with accountability, respect and integrity. I won’t let these lies faze me or take away from my duty to this township,” Lorenzo said in his statement. “I am going back to work serving the residents of Rostraver.”
Former 58th District State House candidate Robert Prah, a Democrat, also complained to township police last spring that he received harassing texts from an anonymous person.
“You and your team seriously went negative against Mr. (Eric) Davanzo again? Haven’t you learned it’s a bad look and does harm … you should be ashamed,” read one message in March 2020.
Davanzo, a Republican, won the state House seat in November 2020.
“People saying if you were a Republican you would be a shoe-in (sic) and guaranteed the 58th,” read another message to Prah in 2020, according to court documents.
Another message Prah received in December 2020 regarding a township issue urged him to “Go crawl back under your hole.”
Investigators said they linked those messages to Lorenzo.
Lorenzo also is accused of setting up a bogus Facebook account last March in Commissioner Ray Iacoboni’s name and sending messages from it, according to court papers. That account has since been deleted, investigators said.
Chief John Christner of the Rostraver Police Department said the charges were filed after a thorough investigation.
“It’s a sad day in Rostraver Township. I don’t like seeing Rostraver Township deal with this type of adversity,” Christner said. “However, when it’s said and done, we have a responsibility to investigate criminal activity. We must be diligent, fair and impartial as to our approach and methods.
“As a police department, we will not be dissuaded in performing our duties regardless of the identity of the alleged perpetrator.,” he added.
Lorenzo is the son of late township commissioner Nick Lorenzo, a Democrat who served in office for nearly 30 years before he was defeated for reelection in 2011. The elder Lorenzo died in 2014.
Lorenzo’s first term as commissioner expires in 2024.