FEBRUARY 06, 2009
A Pennsylvania judge who admitted accepting millions of dollars in kickbacks from the developer of a juvenile detention center also operated a secret program that released violent criminals before their sentences were complete.
A fellow Luzerne County judge has disclosed that the magnitude of corruption involving his disgraced colleague is much greater than previously reported. It turns out that Judge Mark Ciavarella, sentenced to seven years in prison this week, ran an operation that freed inmates prematurely without the knowledge of the judges who sentenced them.
Outraged Luzerne County Judge Paul Olszewski exposed the scheme, calling it a secret probation parole program that no other county jurist knew about. Judge Olszewski says it put dangerous people on the street, including violent felons who in the past had probation and parole revocations. The judge issued several court orders this week demanding those inmates be brought back to prison.
Ciavarella and fellow Luzerne County Judge Michael Conahan earlier pleaded guilty to federal charges that they took millions of dollars in bribes in exchange for rulings that favored the developers of a local juvenile detention center. The judges regularly violated state and federal laws by sentencing many youths who had committed minor offenses to the residential youth facility, often without benefit of counsel.
Ciaverella also presided over 10 cases tried by the attorney whose holding company bribed him and his corrupt colleague. The attorney (Robert J. Powell) won nearly $16 million for his clients in Ciaverella’s courtroom, three of the cases yielding multi million-dollar verdicts. Assigning the cases to Ciaverella was Conahan, the court’s president judge at the time.
Both judges were suspended by the state’s Supreme Court before being criminally charged and subsequently convicted. Besides seven-year prison sentences for each, the men must pay millions in restitution and will be permanently disbarred.
Their convictions are simply the tip of the iceberg, according to federal authorities, who this week searched the home of a high-ranking Luzerne County official in connection with the scheme. They assure that more arrests are coming.
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