Two Luzerne County Judges Indicted
Posted: Jan 26, 2009 08:38 AM EST
Last Updated: Jan 26, 2009 05:06 PM EST
By Jon Meyer
Luzerne County's president judge and the former president judge will soon have to turn themselves after agreeing to plead guilty to corruption charges.
Federal investigators said they stole millions of dollars, all in a web of deceit and fraud. There has been speculation for months that charges would be filed against Judges Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan.
Monday the United States attorney, FBI and IRS announced those charges and a plea agreement. It's the first big development of a two-year investigation into corruption at the Luzerne County courthouse.
Investigators laid out a scheme of fraud and deceit that they said made the judges $2.6 million.
"Today this office has filed a two count information charging President Judge Mark Ciavarella and former president Michael Conahan," said U.S. Attorney Martin Carlson.
It's an announcement from the U.S. attorney that puts two Luzerne County judges on the wrong side of the law.
For decades these men took an oath to fairly judge others. Now President Judge Ciavarella and former President Judge Michael Conahan will be judged themselves.
"When a judge violates that oath, when a judge violates this solemn vow, the judge violates the public's right to his services and the judge violates the law," Carlson added. "This is a sad event when individuals who took an oath violate that oath and violate the law."
Federal investigators said the corruption revolved around the county's juvenile detention center in Pittston Township.
Prosecutors said the two judges worked with those who ran the Pennsylvania Child Care Facility to get it open, keep it in operational and keep juvenile defenders filling the beds there in exchange for $2.6 million in kickbacks. Court documents show the judges even sent young people to the detention center who should not have been in custody.
"They sold their oath of offices to the highest bidders and engaged in on-going schemes to defraud the public out of honest services that were expected of them," said FBI Special Agent Deron Roberts.
The federal charges claim Conahan and Ciavarella funneled the kickbacks to various accounts through their other businesses, even in the name of a shared condominium in Florida.
"I think this is the beginning of the end of the darkest days of our county. We can look at this as a bright spot that things have been turned around and no longer will these sorts of things be tolerated," said Luzerne County District Attorney Jackie Musto-Carroll.
Now the pair will be off the bench, disbarred, and they have agreed to each spend seven years in prison.
"The behavior filed in the charges today represents a flagrant abuse of the public trust of all citizens in Luzerne County and honest taxpayers everywhere," said IRS Special Agent Leslie DeMarco.
The new juvenile facility was controversial from the start. A recent state study ruled it way overpriced. Today we learned the judges even sent young people to the detention facility near Pittston when they didn't deserve it.
As for the judges themselves, they are free but will have to turn themselves in for federal arraignment soon.
A judicial misconduct board removed Judge Ann Lokuta last month. She went to Monday's news conference to hear about the charges against Ciavarella and Conahan. "I would tell them I was disgraced by their behavior. I would tell them for years I asked to see the budget. I was never given that opportunity," Lokuta said.
When asked if those who ran the juvenile detention center will be charged, federal investigators would not comment, except to say this is just the first development in an on-going investigation.