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Luzerne Judge Corruption Scandal - Others Involved?????

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JPZenger Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Feb-13-09 10:37 AM
Original message
Luzerne Judge Corruption Scandal - Others Involved?????
Edited on Fri Feb-13-09 11:04 AM by JPZenger
You have probably read articles over the last month about the 2 Luzerne County judges who pleaded guilty to taking millions of dollars of bribes from PA. Child Care LLC. The judges convinced the county to close its own juvenile detention center, and then directed all of the youth to the PA. Child Care centers, even when detention was not recommended by County staff.

However, most news articles have not covered the broader matters, including connections to other county elected and appointed officials, local developments, and the proposed huge cargo airport in Luzerne and Schuylkill Counties.


Here's excerpts of a February 12, 2009 article from, the local paper, which provides some of the raw material to make these linkages:

"Western PA Child Care LLC, one of two juvenile detention companies at the heart of the courthouse corruption scandal, racked up $1.2 million in unallowable expenses... the audit ..alleges Western PA Child Care and a related firm paid unsupported fees of more than $700,000 to principals in the companies and to other companies they controlled. The audit questions numerous payments Western PA Child Care made to Butler Township attorney Robert J. Powell, a former co-owner of the company. A holding company that controlled Powells interest in the juvenile detention centers, Vision Holdings LLC, made some of the payments to the judges, federal prosecutors allege...

Powells partner in Western PA Child Care and Pennsylvania Child Care, Pittsburgh-area investment banker Gregory Zappala, bought Powells interest in the firms in June shortly after the federal investigation was made public. Powell and Zappala split $1 million from the $14 million they borrowed to build the Western PA Child Care facility as consulting fees... The draft audit questions about $76,000 in payments made to Powells law firm, the Powell Law Group, and the company that owns its Butler Township headquarters, Big Kahuna Realty LLC. Powells law partner, Luzerne County Prothonotary Jill A. Moran, owns an interest in both companies, according to her statement of financial interest on file with the county.

Western PA Child Care and its related management firm, Mid-Atlantic Youth Services, also made questionable payments and loans to Powell-controlled companies that own a private jet and a 56-foot fishing boat and to Gladstone Partners, a Powell/Zappala company that promoted a cargo airport project in southern Luzerne County, auditors said. Zappala is now sole owner of Gladstone."


"The judges also assisted in securing a controversial 20-year, $58 million county lease of the Pennsylvania Child Care facility that was approved by the Luzerne County Commissioners in 2004, according to prosecutors, but the documents do not offer details. The lease was criticized as a bad deal for the county by state auditors and the commissioners negotiated their way out of the agreement last year. The company sued to stop the public release of state audit documents and Judge Conahan granted an order sealing the documents and the suit itself, only to be overturned later on appeal.

The two individuals who allegedly paid the judges were not named in court documents. But information in the documents indicates they are Robert J. Powell, a Butler Twp. attorney who was co-owner of Pennsylvania Child Care until June, and Robert S. Mericle, owner and president of Mericle Construction Inc. Its unclear if those individuals, called Participant 1 and Participant 2 in the documents, will be charged."


Here's a very good article about Attornery Robert J. Powell. The whole article is worth reading:

"Powells sudden chain of public hirings generated cries of politics from some taxpayers, who questioned whether his selection was linked to political campaign donations. In 1996, then-county commissioners Tom Makowski, Frank Crossin and Joseph Red Jones hired him as county planning commission solicitor. ...Powell was also hired as West Hazleton and Hazleton City solicitor and as bond counsel for a Hazleton Area School District construction/renovation project and the Luzerne County Convention Centers proposed arena project. By ...2002, Powell and his firm had been paid more than $150,000 for county legal work. He and his firm contributed $12,400 to the campaigns of Democratic majority county commissioners from 1995 through 2002.

Powells involvement in PA Child Care ...was discovered by a reporter through mortgage documents in 2002 nine months after the court sent county commissioners the original proposal to lease the building. Powell ignored repeat written and verbal notices from county officials including the county solicitor to file financial disclosure forms as required by the state Ethics Commission covering his years of solicitorship employment with the county. These forms are supposed to publicly disclose information about real estate interests, creditors, significant gifts and direct and indirect income. County officials said Thursday that Powell never filed the reports...Commissioner Greg Skrepenak and former Commissioner Todd Vonderheid approved a $58-million, 20-year lease of the Pittston Township center in October 2004.

Powell showed signs of his growing wealth. He owned a 56-foot yacht named Reel Justice, and a 12-seat Rockwell International jet... In 2005, Powell and his wife, Debra, built a 7,100-square-foot home ... valued at $1.46 million. A new moniker John Doe was attached to Powell in 2007 when The Times Leader discovered that county Prothonotary Jill Moran his law partner switched Powells name in her office database so he wasnt linked to an IRS tax lien filed against him...Experts said her action was illegal."

A comment on that website noted:

"I read on Powell's firms Web site where Judge Ciaverella presided over the case with a title such as Jury awards injured worker $3.25 million. I also read on The firms Web site where Another one! $1.7 million verdict. was presented before Judge Conahan."

Another article described how Powell got one of the Luzerne judge to intervene in a dispute with a marina in Florida over the docking of his yacht. The Luzerne judge intervened even though it had very questionable jurisdiction in a Florida contract dispute.


This is why we need to support our local newspapers. You don't find this reporting on the TV news.

Progressives also need to be as aggressive in rooting out corruption among Dems as among Repubs.

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JPZenger Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Feb-13-09 11:23 AM
Response to Original message
1. Newspaper Article Lays Out Timeline


"June 2000: Luzerne County Judge Mark A. Ciavarella Jr. meets with attorney Robert J. Powell (called Participant No. 1 in federal charges filed Monday) to discuss Powells plans to build a private juvenile detention center. Ciavarella introduces Powell to local developer Robert S. Mericle (called Participant No. 2 in the federal charges).

Jan. 29, 2002: Then-President Judge Michael T. Conahan, a friend of Powells, signs an agreement to house juveniles at the new facility, paying $1.3 million in rent per year.

April 19, 2002: Powell is identified as an investor in Pennsylvania Child Care through Vision Holdings Inc., identified in mortgage documents as a Cayman Islands company.

Oct. 9, 2002: Conahan announces through a spokesman that the countys judges will stop sending juveniles to the county center in 2003, citing safety concerns. A month later, the state says it will issue a license for the county center, ruling it is safe.

Dec. 31, 2002: The county closes its own facility.

Feb. 5, 2003: The county commissioners approve use of the Pennsylvania Child Care center.

January 2004: Newly elected majority commissioners Todd Vonderheid and Greg Skrepenak take office.

Oct. 20, 2004: Vonderheid and Skrepenak give preliminary approval to a $58 million, 20-year lease.

Nov. 16, 2004: State auditors fax a letter warning commissioners to hold off on the lease. County officials say they didnt receive it. A day later, Vonderheid and Skrepenak give final approval to the lease.

December 2004: County Controller Steve Flood subpoenas working papers from the unfinished state audit that call the lease a bad deal and allege Pennsylvania Child Care overcharged the county. Flood releases them to the press, drawing a lawsuit from Pennsylvania Child Care. The suit is sealed from public view by Conahan at the companys request."
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JPZenger Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Feb-13-09 12:00 PM
Response to Original message
2. Front Page Article in Phila Inquirer

I just realized the Phila Inquirer had a front page article on these matters on Feb. 12th. Here's excerpts:

"Two juvenile-detention facilities at the center of a Luzerne County corruption scandal charged high fees to the county and state, and used the profits to fund a lavish lifestyle for a former owner, according to a draft audit by the state Department of Public Welfare. The audit ... concluded that the facilities ... spent more than $1.2 million in expenses not allowed under state regulations. Robert J. Powell, who co-owned the facilities, used earnings from those centers to make millions in interest-free loans to a web of his companies, including one that owns his private jet and another that owns his 56-foot sport fishing boat, the audit found.

The DPW audit .. alleges that Powell bought $140,000 in prepaid flight time on his jet, paid $5,800 for a limousine ride to an NCAA basketball tournament and the King of Prussia mall, and purchased a $3,500 custom suit for a former Hazleton mayor who worked for the centers. Western PA Child Care, a 74-bed facility, charged $314 per day for "secure" treatment. The state recommended reducing that to $249 per day because of the unallowable costs. The result was fat profits for the centers. PA Child Care and Western PA Child Care earned $2.5 million in profit in the 18 months prior to June 30, 2008, the audit said.

Mid-Atlantic and Western PA Child Care paid $240,000 to ... a company that Powell co-owns ... that operates a luxury turbo jet... The plane's interior includes buckskin leather seats, a couch, gold-plated fixtures, and a new entertainment system, according to the agreement. The plane costs more than $1 million per year to operate ... Powell used a similar spending pattern with his $1.3 million 56-foot sport fishing boat, the Reel Justice. The boat has a luxury cabin, sleeping quarters and guest stateroom, and a $6,820 teak fishing chair."

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JPZenger Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Feb-13-09 02:51 PM
Response to Reply #2
3. Made front page of the New York Times

The above story was on the front page of the New York Times today. The Times story discusses a girl who was sent away for 3 months because of a satirical website.
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JPZenger Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Feb-13-09 03:10 PM
Response to Original message
4. Powell and the Cargo Airport

"State Rep. Todd Eachus said he has suspended his support for the proposed cargo airport in the Hazleton area because of the many questions surrounding individuals involved. Eachus said he made his decision when one of the key figures in the cargo airport, attorney Robert Powell, was linked to the investigation of former Luzerne County judges Michael Conahan and Mark Ciavarella. The two have been charged with accepting more than $2.6 million in kickbacks. Filings in federal court indirectly identify Powell as one of the unnamed parties involved in the scheme. Powell has not been charged.

Powell was a principal in Gladstone Partners, a corporation formed to develop land in Luzerne and Schuylkill counties for the cargo airport. In June, Powells partner, Gregory Zappala, bought out Powells interest in Gladstone and in a company that operates juvenile detention centers in Luzerne and Butler counties.

Gladstones Web site, which appears not to have been updated for several months, lists Powell as a business partner. Other contacts listed are: Luzerne County Prothonotary Jill Moran, legal counsel; William Gentilesco, project manager; and Catherine Shaffer, media and press. Gladstone Partners, LP, is located at 10 Fox Run Road, Drums, which also is the address of Powells law firm. Shaffer did not return messages. A Gladstone representative said Monday that information is incorrect and the Web site will be updated."
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JPZenger Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Feb-15-09 09:44 PM
Response to Original message
5. "How Deep is the Snake Pit?"

Excerpts in Column by Hank Grezlak, the editor-in-chief of The Legal Intelligencer:

"At least two sources have told me the investigation of Conahan and Ciavarella was an outgrowth of a separate investigation into organized crime. One source told me he spoke with the FBI in 2006 after representing a businessman in a business dispute in Luzerne County that allegedly involved some questionable characters. The source said when he spoke with the FBI, they were asking about the juvenile detention center, which the source had no information about, as well as alleged organized crime figures.

If the possibility that somehow an investigation into organized crime led to an investigation into allegedly corrupt judges doesn't get the hair on the back of your neck standing up, I don't know what will. I'm hoping to report more on that angle later. That's also another reason why I think it's too early for anyone to assume we've seen the last of the bombshells coming from Luzerne County.

In theory, the judge has a point. In practical terms, he's not comprehending how negative a view a number of lawyers have of the Luzerne court system. I'm guessing most lawyers felt that to object was career suicide. If you think some lawyers and judges are involved in case fixing, why would you complain to that court? You wouldn't, because you would have no confidence in that court, and you wouldn't trust anyone in that system. And complaining to the disciplinary agencies is a tricky business. Many attorneys are convinced that if they make allegations about other lawyers, and particularly judges, the investigation will go nowhere and they'll be facing reprisals. Sad as it may be, it's true. I haven't had any shortage of lawyers tell me that they think Luzerne is corrupt."

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JPZenger Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Feb-15-09 10:01 PM
Response to Reply #5
6. Links to Questionable Interest Rate Swap Deals With School Districts

thanks to for pointing out the following link.

The co-owners of the children's detention centers were Powell and Zappala. Mr. Zappala has links to deals struck with some school districts in PA. that have cost tax payers millions of dollars.


"Education officials in Erie and Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, were so impressed with the quantitative skills of JPMorgan and Morgan Stanley that they bought interest-rate swaps without ever knowing the price. That cost taxpayers millions of dollars for the errant financings.

Bloomberg Markets March 2008

"The Pennsylvania deals show that school districts routinely lose when making derivative deals. They pay fees to banks that are as much as five times higher than typical rates and overpay advisers by as much as 10-fold. That means banks often underpay schools on upfront amounts, as JPMorgan Chase did in Erie, public records show. And school officials aren't always well served by their supposedly independent advisers, whose fees are paid by the banks selling the deals--only if the sale is made. In 15 Pennsylvania school districts, officials entered into interest-rate-swap deals worth $28 million since 2003 ..."The school districts are getting fleeced," Governor Edward Rendell says.

By June 2006, the swaption had left Erie's district with a $2.9 million liability because expectations of future short-term interest rates had risen, narrowing the difference between future costs to borrow for one year and for 30 years. In July 2006, the district paid JPMorgan $2.9 million to terminate the swaption. "It's obscene," says Peter Shapiro, managing director of South Orange, New Jersey-based adviser Swap Financial Group, who doesn't advise Pennsylvania school districts. "What is going on in Pennsylvania?"

Sometimes school districts have agreed to swaptions even when a local financial official warns against no-bid deals. In Butler County, a rural area dotted with working farms 40 miles north of Pittsburgh, County Controller Jack McMillin says the lack of competitive bidding for public finance has cost taxpayers. "It's a form of institutionalized larceny under the guise of getting taxpayers a good deal," McMillin says. He wasn't involved in the school board decisions. The district put its trust in municipal finance firm Russell Rea Zappala & Gomulka Holdings Inc., known as RRZ. Greg Zappala, head of JPMorgan's office in Cranberry Township just north of Pittsburgh, is the son of former Pennsylvania Supreme Court Chief Justice Stephen Zappala and the brother of Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala Jr. Zappala's uncle, Charles Zappala, was an RRZ executive. In 1990, Greg Zappala became a broker with the firm. In 2003, JPMorgan bought the firm's municipal unit: RRZ Public Markets Inc., which Zappala ran. The company had worked for the Butler Area School District since 1991. There was no competition when the former RRZ bankers paid $730,000 for an option to refinance, five years in the future, $39 million of bonds sold by the school district in 1998."

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JPZenger Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Feb-17-09 12:08 PM
Response to Reply #6
7. Big Awards by Judges Are Questioned 2/17/09 editorial:

"The possible fallout extends beyond juvenile court. Every court decision made by Ciavarella and Conahan is a potential target for appeal. One case already under intense scrutiny involves a $3.4 million legal malpractice verdict reached in Ciavarellas courtroom. The plaintiffs in that case were represented by Robert J. Powell, a Butler Township attorney whose company furnished some of the kickbacks, according to federal prosecutors.

Powell has been widely identified as the unnamed Participant No. 1 referred to in federal court documents who made payments to the judges to benefit the juvenile centers of which he was co-owner. In that case, Ciavarella, in response to a question from the defendants attorney, denied having ties to Powell that would render him unable to preside impartially. Two other cases in which Powells clients won more than $12 million in Ciavarellas courtroom could also be the subject of new appeals.

And dont forget former Judge Ann H. Lokutas bid in the state Supreme Court to regain her seat on the bench, based largely on the argument that Conahan and Ciavarella lied when testifying against her in front of the state Court of Judicial Discipline."
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JPZenger Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Feb-17-09 03:17 PM
Response to Original message
8. One of many stories February 13, 2009


"Flo Wallace wanted to see Luzerne County Judge Mark A. Ciavarella Jr. walk out of court Thursday the same way her 15-year-old daughter did after she appeared before him in September 2007 in handcuffs and shackles. Ciavarella, who served as juvenile court judge from 2001 through last May, sentenced Bernadine Wallace to a month in detention for allegedly posting threatening messages about an acquaintance on the social networking Web site,

Ciavarella ordered Wallace, 13 at the time, shackled and sent to Camp Adams in Carbon County immediately after her hearing a marked contrast to the expected three-month gap between the judges guilty plea to corruption charges and a sentencing proceeding.

Bernadine Wallace said she was held at Camp Adams for two weeks before being transferred to a privately owned juvenile detention center in Pittston Township. At the facility, owned by Pennsylvania Child Care LLC, Bernadine said she underwent a psychological evaluation by forensic psychologist Dr. Frank Vita, Conahans brother-in-law.

Along the way, her psychological outlook has dimmed. Her mental health has declined something fierce, Flo Wallace said. Shes frightened all the time. Shes paranoid. She cant trust nobody. You try to tell her something, she doesnt want to believe it.
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JPZenger Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Feb-22-09 11:12 PM
Response to Original message
9. Judge Pressured Staff to Recommend Detention of Juveniles


"Interviews and court documents portray Ciavarellas courtroom as a place where the outcome of cases was decided well before a juvenile arrived for a hearing that could take mere minutes. Wielding tight control of the juvenile probation department and his courtroom, Ciavarella pressured court staff to recommend detention, even in cases where staffers believed detention wasnt warranted, federal prosecutors allege.

Sandra M. Brulo, who supervised juvenile probation officers under Ciavarella, played a key role in the system, according to a federal class-action suit against her, the judge and a dozen other defendants.Brulo succumbed to pressure from Ciavarella to ensure that juveniles were placed in juvenile detention facilities and not released the suit alleges. Brulo and personnel under her control determined placements and sentences before juveniles were ever adjudicated to be delinquent.

Brulo declined comment for this story Wednesday, two days before she was arrested by the FBI and charged with obstruction of justice.Shes accused of falsifying a juvenile court file that could potentially be used for evidence in the class-action case.

Half of the 1,113 juveniles who appeared in Ciavarellas court in 2005-2006 were not represented by lawyers nearly 10 times the state average, according to the Juvenile Law Center, a Philadelphia-based advocacy group. Acting on a petition filed by the center, the state Supreme Court has ordered a review of thousands of juvenile cases handled by Ciavarella."
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Lugnut Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Feb-26-09 01:39 AM
Response to Original message
10. What a stinking mess.
It makes one wonder how widespread this corruption truly is.
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JPZenger Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Mar-02-09 10:28 AM
Response to Reply #10
11. More Horror Stories about effects on young people
Edited on Mon Mar-02-09 10:29 AM by JPZenger

By the way, the Luzerne County Prothonotary (a top court administrator) has resigned and agreed to cooperate with the investigation. She is a law partner with Powell, who was the co-owner of the detention center, and was involved with Powell on other business ventures.
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Jefferson23 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Mar-03-09 08:08 PM
Response to Reply #11
12. Thank you JPZenger for putting all of this info in one place, a must read for all.
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JPZenger Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Mar-04-09 11:44 AM
Response to Original message
13. Did Corrupt Judges Conspire to Remove a Fellow Judge? :

Former Luzerne County Judge Ann H. Lokuta had a front-row seat in federal court Thursday as her colleagues-turned-adversaries, Judges Ciavarella Conahan, pleaded guilty ... Ciavarella and Conahan testified against Lokuta, 55, during the series of misconduct hearings between September 2007 and January 2008 that precipitated her removal from the bench by the state Court of Judicial Discipline, last December. Lokuta is appealing the decision to the state Supreme Court.

Lokuta has contended Conahan, the president judge from 2002 through 2006, helped orchestrate the charges against her and claimed Conahan lied when he testified he was unaware of any individuals within the Court of Common Pleas who were particularly aligned together for any reason.

They forgot to say that during the course of my case, which tried to show all the individuals who were under the direct control of the president judges of Luzerne County, including most if not all of the witnesses, Lokuta said. Its very disingenuous for anyone to suggest that these people had no control over their court appointees and the court reporters and the bevy of individuals who testified.

Soon after Conahan became president judge in 2002, he removed Lokuta from her chambers at the courthouse and put her into a non-completed facility, Penn Place, without access to the court files, the court records, the mail or anything.


Details at the above link. According to the above appeal, Judge Lokuta reported irregularities among the corrupt judges to Federal prosecutors in 2006 - before they teamed up in 2007 to have her removed from the bench. She also makes allegations that the Judge who oversaw the hearing against her was connected to the co-owner of the Kids Prison that paid the bribes, and was biased in the testimony that he allowed and did not allow.

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Lugnut Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Mar-07-09 01:43 AM
Response to Reply #13
17. I live in Luzerne Co.
My opinion on Lokuta is an opportunist. Her misconduct and bad behavior has been well documented by many courthouse employees other than the two judges. It would be most unfortunate if the criminal acts of the judges resulted in her reinstatement to the bench.
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JPZenger Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Mar-04-09 12:05 PM
Response to Original message
14. Did Corrupt Judge Regularly Meet With Mobsters?

The above article is full of interesting accusations. Here's a couple excerpts:

"the judge used to hold meetings about twice a month with a reputed mob boss and a common friend -- also an admitted felon -- to discuss pending court cases, according to a supplement to a King's Bench petition filed with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court Friday. The newspaper the Citizens' Voice wrote to the court that a friend of William "Billy" D'Elia, Robert Kulick, has detailed his relationship with former Judge Conahan and D'Elia.

... the three men once met in Conahan's chambers discuss a case in which D'Elia and Kulick "were both interested." That meeting happened prior to a hearing in that case ... "If I or someone I knew had an interest in a particular case pending before that court, I would ask Judge Conahan to consider that the party I supported got a 'fair shake,' or a 'second look,'" Kulick claims in a declaration attached to the supplement. "It was my understanding that if the case was not being handled by Judge Conahan himself, he would, on occasion, speak to other judges who were handling the matter in response to my request. At various times, Judge Conahan would confirm that he had either acted on my requests or had arranged for them to be acted on." ...Both men have pleaded guilty in the last year to criminal charges -- Kulick to possession of a firearm by an admitted felon, D'Elia to money-laundering conspiracy and witness tampering charges in 2008.

This ... filing to the state Supreme Court asks the justices to vacate a $3.5 million defamation award issued against the newspaper and reopen discovery in the case. In Joseph v. Scranton Times, Thomas Joseph argued that articles published by the Citizens' Voice during its coverage of a 2001 federal investigation that targeted D'Elia and his alleged business partners damaged his reputation and business. A source told the paper that federal officials were investigating Joseph to see whether he used his direct mail and advertising business to launder money for D'Elia and that his taxi and limousine service was used to traffic guns, drugs and prostitutes between the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and Lehigh Valley international airports and Atlantic City, N.J., New York City and Philadelphia.

Conahan handled the pretrial matters and, despite voiced concerns from the newspaper company, worked with William T. Sharkey, the former court administrator who has pleaded guilty to embezzling funds, to steer the case to Ciavarella for a 10-day nonjury trial, according to the petition...Ciavarella awarded Joseph and his businesses $3.5 million in damages."

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JPZenger Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Mar-06-09 11:58 AM
Response to Reply #14
16. Mobster Links?
So one of the corrupt judges regularly met with Mr. D'Elia.\'Elia

Mr. D'Elia's background is in "waste management." He is also involved in the current prosecution of Mr. Louie DeNaples, who got his start in "waste management", the Keystone Landfill and large junkyards. Mr. DeNaples is the largest landowner by far in northeastern PA. Mr. DeNaples also received a State license for a slots casino, even though he had a previous felony conviction involving government contracts.

You can read more about these links at:


November 21, 2008

"Court paperwork filed in preparation for Monday's sentencing of reputed mob boss William D'Elia confirms what many have suspected: The Hughestown man has assisted in the prosecution of others, including DeNaples. Mr. D'Elia's attorney ... argued that Mr. D'Elia should receive a sentence less than the recommended nine to 11 years, in part because of his cooperation with authorities investigating Mr. DeNaples, the Rev. Joseph Sica and Luzerne County businessman Robert J. Kulick.

Mr. DeNaples is facing charges in Dauphin County relating to allegations that he lied to state gambling regulators about ties to organized crime figures when he sought a license for his Mount Airy Casino Resort in Monroe County in 2006.

Mr. D'Elia, identified in federal court documents as the head of the Bufalino crime family, has been in prison since October 2006. In March, he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit money laundering and witness tampering and admitted to helping others hide the origins of $600,000 in drug-trafficking proceeds. He also admitting to attempting to set up the murder of one of his co-conspirators after learning the man was cooperating with federal investigators."

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JPZenger Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Mar-06-09 11:31 AM
Response to Original message
15. Great Column on this travesty

"We All Failed the Kids in Luzerne -- And We're All Going to Pay the Price
The Legal Intelligencer

By Hank Grezlak

"There are few things more frightening in a democratic society than a corrupt judge. They can dig in securely like ticks. The ethics rules can protect them from those most likely to recognize their crimes: attorneys. As we've seen in Luzerne County, they can target and punish anyone they want. They can incarcerate without legal representation. ... this might be one of the worst judicial scandals the country has ever seen.

Tammy Ruger told me her son, Chad, was an outgoing kid, and a talented football player who had potential scholarship offers before he got into trouble at age 17 in 2003 for hurting another boy as a result of what Ruger described as horseplay. Prior to that, she said, Chad had never been in trouble before. The hearing before Ciavarella lasted about four minutes, she said, during which, she recalled, Ciavarella never looked at a note testifying to Chad's general character before sentencing him to a week in PA ChildCare ... Ruger told me that, because of an administrative gaffe that coincided with Ciavarella's vacation, Chad wound up staying at the facility two weeks. It was the worst experience of her life, she said. She said they gave him two boxes of juice a day, and that was all they had to drink. She also said Chad told her they made kids wear used underwear. The problems didn't end after Chad got released. He lost out on any football scholarship opportunities. Ruger said her son was no longer outgoing. She said he was withdrawn.

Krystal Pope was a first-time offender at age 17 in 2006 when she was caught by police in a car with "weed and a pipe." Pope said she didn't get a lawyer other than a public defender because folks at the courthouse had told her mother that she wouldn't need one and that she would just get probation. Only that's not what happened. Ciavarella sentenced her to 90 days at an all-girls wilderness camp.

We all have an obligation to get at the truth in Luzerne County, no matter how ugly and damaging it might be. If the entire Luzerne County Courthouse needs to be gutted and fumigated, so be it. We all owe those kids and their families better than what they got. We all have a long way to go before anyone can have faith in the Luzerne courts, or faith in our judicial conduct system."
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JPZenger Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Mar-08-09 12:18 PM
Response to Reply #15
18. New Front Page Article in Phila. Inquirer
Edited on Sun Mar-08-09 12:19 PM by JPZenger


"Teen and his family still paying after Luzerne County sentencing. By John Sullivan

As Joanne Balasavage sat with her 16-year-old son, Charlie, outside the courtroom of Judge Ciavarella, she noticed a troubling trend. Only parents emerged from the courtroom, no children. They could hear shackles jangle across the floor in 2007 as one after another, juvenile defendants were taken away.

Then came Charlie's turn. ... he had never been in trouble before buying from a relative a scooter that turned out to have been stolen. Without a lawyer representing him, Charlie was quickly dispatched by the judge on a three-year odyssey through the state's juvenile-detention system... In "a wave of unprecedented lawlessness," the suit says, the judges failed to advise Charlie and other youths of their right to counsel, accepted their guilty pleas without explaining what they had been charged with, and garnisheed the wages of their parents to pay the costs of detention.

For Charlie, the nightmare continues. Nearly three years after his ordeal began, and despite little evidence he committed a crime, Charlie remains in a juvenile center, The Juvenile Law Center estimates that between 2003 and 2008, as many as 2,500 Luzerne County juveniles may have been affected by Ciavarella's rulings. In a two-year window examined by the Juvenile Law Center, more than half of those defendants had no attorney.. Meanwhile, the judges lived lavishly, vacationing at a Florida condominium and enjoying a boat slip rented with kickbacks they have admitted taking.

According to state guidelines, the recommended sentence for an adult convicted of the same offense is probation to one month in jail...On the first day at Camp Adams, Charlie met with a psychologist. After several hours of interviews, the psychologist said Charlie had an antisocial disorder, anxiety, depression, and a host of other maladies. The Balasavages wanted Charlie to see another doctor, one covered by their medical insurance. But the county said no. Charlie's parents and lawyers have discovered that the psychologist, Frank Vita, is Conahan's brother-in-law. In November, the state said it would take back $836,636 it had paid Vita for such exams. ...He had to appear before Ciavarella again. This time the judge was even harsher."You're a two-time loser, and you'll always be a loser," he said the judge had told him."

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JPZenger Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Mar-09-09 09:25 AM
Response to Original message
19. Big Story in Britain's Best Newspaper

New Article from the Manchester Guardian:

"Hillary Transue was 14 when she carried out her prank. She built a hoax MySpace page in which she posed as the vice-principal of her school, poking fun at her strictness. At the bottom of the page she added a disclaimer just to make sure everyone knew it was a joke. "When you find this I hope you have a sense of humour," she wrote. Humour is not in abundance, it seems, in Luzerne County ...In January 2007 Transue was charged with harassment...Less than a minute into the hearing the gavel came down. "Adjudicated delinquent!" the judge proclaimed, and sentenced her to three months in a juvenile detention centre. Hillary, who hadn't even presented her side of the story, was handcuffed and led away.

Alerted by Hillary's mother, the Juvenile Law Centre in Wilkes-Barre began to uncover scores of cases in which teenagers had been summarily sent to custody by Ciavarella, dating as far back as 1999. One child was detained for stealing a $4 jar of nutmeg, another for throwing a sandal at her mother, a third aged 14 was held for six months for slapping a friend at school.

For a man who has agreed to serve more than seven years in jail as part of a plea bargain, Ciavarella comes across as remarkably unflustered. He invited the Guardian into his Wilkes-Barre home where he remains free on bail pending sentencing... he insists that he took the money in all innocence, assuming it to be a legitimate "finder's fee" from the private company for help in building the detention centre. He denies sending children to custody in return for kickbacks. "Cash for kids? It never happened. People have jumped to conclusions - I didn't do any of these things."

As evidence, Ciavarella claims the percentage of children he sentenced to custodial placements remained steady from 1996, when he was appointed to the court, until he stood down from it in 2008. Yet the facts suggest otherwise. For the first two years of his term his rate of custodial sentencing was static at 4.5% of cases. In 1999 - shortly before he allegedly began the racket with Conahan, according to prosecutors - it suddenly shot up to 14%. By 2004 it had risen to up to 26% of all teenagers entering his court."

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JPZenger Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Mar-13-09 11:05 AM
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20. A Third Judge; and a Conspiracy to Block Co. Owned Center?

"Federal authorities are looking at Luzerne County Common Pleas Judge Michael Toole as part of their investigation into alleged corruption ... The focus of the investigation appears to stem from an allegation that Toole may have received a payment from attorney Robert Powell.

"...sources confirmed to The Legal that federal investigators are looking into a zoning case in which the owners of a hotel frequented by D'Elia challenged a zoning variance that would have allowed the county to build a new county-owned juvenile detention facility.

Before his election to the bench in 2003, Toole was a partner with Ciavarella at Lowery Ciavarella Rogers and Toole. Court records show that, on at least one occasion, Toole represented The Woodlands Inn & Resort a hotel on the outskirts of Wilkes-Barre that has ties to D'Elia and that also received a pair of favorable rulings from Conahan in 2000 and 2003. There is no evidence to suggest that the plaintiffs improperly influenced either case.

The resort received another favorable ruling in 2003 from Judge Peter Paul Olszewski Jr. that blocked the construction of a county-owned juvenile detention facility near its property, because it might have scared away prospective guests. The decision essentially paved the way for the construction of PA Child Care."

In other words, the judges were pushing the County Commissioners to sign a 20 year contract with the for-profit children's detention center. Instead, the County Commissioners wanted to build a new county-owned facility. The idea of a new county-owned facility was killed because of a zoning challenge by the owner of a hotel. The hotel was frequented by one of the corrupt judges and the regional mob boss. Coincidence???
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JPZenger Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Mar-13-09 11:14 AM
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21. Drug Dealer Was Permanent Guest at Judge's Luxury Condo

"A convicted drug dealer and attorney Robert Powell were among the people who were listed as permanent guests permitted to use an exclusive condominium owned by judges Conahan and Ciavarella.. Ronald Belletiere, who was convicted of participating in the Empire Drug ring that operated in Hazleton in the mid-1980s, was listed as a permanent guest along with Powell and Ciavarellas three children on a resident registration form maintained by The Mariner at the Jupiter (Fla.) Yacht Club. The designation allows persons listed to have access to the property without having to get authorization from the owners.

The form is the latest document to surface that shows the close personal as well as financial ties that Powell, a wealthy Butler Township attorney, had with Ciavarella and Conahan during their tenure on the bench. It also raises further questions regarding Conahans ties to Belletiere, a man federal prosecutors said was a supplier to the Empire drug ring and who, according to corporate documents, later opened a used car lot with Conahans wife...

The trial transcript shows the prosecutor in the case described Conahan as an unindicted co-conspirator in a sidebar conversation with U.S. District Judge Edwin Kosik."

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JPZenger Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Mar-15-09 09:15 PM
Response to Original message
22. Phila. Inquirer Column
Edited on Sun Mar-15-09 09:15 PM by JPZenger

By Daniel Rubin

Inquirer Columnist

"... where the state average for detention ranged between 8 and 10 percent, in Luzerne unrepresented kids were incarcerated around 60 percent of the time... So Juvenile Law Center attorneys asked the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to intervene, citing the case's extraordinary circumstances and extreme public interest. That was in April 2008. The state Attorney General and the Department of Public Welfare filed briefs supporting the Juvenile Law Center's position. Months went by.Hearing nothing, the law center made its case again in December, stating that the court needed to take jurisdiction because hundreds of children could have trouble getting into schools, obtaining financial aid, and being hired, all because of their tainted convictions.

Finally, on Jan. 8, in a one-sentence and unsigned opinion, the Supreme Court refused to take responsibility for the case.Three weeks later, the feds held a press conference: Ciavarella and Judge Michael T. Conahan had agreed to seven-year prison sentences for taking $2.6 million in kickbacks from the owners of private facilities. And one week after that, the Supreme Court issued its own news release, at last claiming jurisdiction and assigning a senior judge from Berks County to review thousands of cases that Ciavarella had heard.

How many children might have been spared the humiliation and denial of due process if the state Supreme Court had acted swiftly? ... Weren't the numbers the Juvenile Law Center cited damning?"
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JPZenger Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Mar-26-09 09:10 PM
Response to Original message
23. Hundreds of Luzerne Convictions overturned /


"On Thursday, Pennsylvania's highest court overturned hundreds of juvenile convictions issued by Ciavarella, ruling the disgraced judge violated the constitutional rights of youth offenders who appeared in his courtroom without lawyers between 2003 and 2008.

The Philadelphia-based Juvenile Law Center asked the Supreme Court to intervene in Luzerne County last year, citing statistics that Ciavarella was opting for detention in far high numbers than would be expected. The justices rejected the request without comment in early January, then changed their mind after Conahan and Ciavarella were charged.

Marsha Levick, chief counsel of the law center, said that the unprecedented scope of the scandal will take time to fully address, but that Thursday's order was a start.

She said there are many inside the Luzerne County court system, including attorneys and probation officials, who had to know the rights of juvenile defendants were being routinely violated."
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JPZenger Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Mar-28-09 08:01 PM
Response to Original message
24. Big New Article on Front Page of New York Times
Good article on today's front page of NYTimes


They were unstoppable, said Judge Chester B. Muroski, who sent a letter to county commissioners raising concerns about detention costs, only to be transferred days later to another court by Judge Conahan. I knew something was wrong, but they silenced all dissent.

Other dissenters were also steamrolled. When the county controller, Steve Flood, leaked a state audit that described the states lease of the center as a bad deal, the centers owner filed a trade secrets lawsuit against Mr. Flood, and Judge Conahan sealed the suit to limit other documents getting out. His decision was later overturned.

Everyone began to assume that the judges had some vested interest in the private center because they were pushing it so doggedly, one courthouse worker said. Virtually all former colleagues and courthouse workers would not allow themselves to be identified because the federal investigation into the kickback scheme was continuing and they feared for their jobs if they alienated former allies of the judges."

Audio and photos of young victims:
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