SEPTEMBER 11, 2009
Two corrupt Pennsylvania judges who thought they would get off easy by pleading guilty to lesser charges have been federally indicted with dozens of felonies that could send them to jail for decades.
The disgraced Luzerne County judges, Mark Ciavarella and Michael T. Conahan, took millions of dollars in kickbacks in exchange for rulings that favored the developers of a local juvenile detention center. In the process, 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.
In February the judges pleaded guilty to honest-services fraud and tax evasion, which, after much negotiating, got them a jail sentence well below what they deserved (87 months). However, a federal judge rejected the deal last month, ruling that Ciavarella and Conahan hadn’t fully accepted responsibility for their crimes. The shamed jurists subsequently withdrew their guilty pleas but the feds continued gathering evidence.
This week a federal grand jury in Harrisburg returned a 48-count indictment charging the former judges with racketeering, bribery, extortion, money laundering and federal tax evasion connected to their $2.8 million kickback scheme to funnel youth offenders to a private detention center. Federal prosecutors point out that the judges could go to prison for decades.
An attorney involved in the corruption scheme has already pleaded guilty to paying the judges kickbacks and the owner of a prominent construction company that built the detention facility has also pleaded guilty to withholding information on a crime. Both will probably cooperate in the case against the judges.
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