Ex-Pa. judges indicted in fraud scheme

By Michael Rubinkam
Associated Press / September 10, 2009

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ALLENTOWN, Pa. - Two former Pennsylvania judges were indicted yesterday on federal racketeering charges in connection with a scheme to place juvenile offenders in privately owned detention centers.

A federal grand jury in Harrisburg returned a 48-count indictment against former Luzerne County judges Michael Conahan and Mark Ciavarella Jr., who are accused of taking millions of dollars in kickbacks related to the construction of two youth detention facilities.

Conahan and Ciavarella had pleaded guilty in February to honest services fraud and tax evasion in a deal with prosecutors that called for a sentence of 87 months in prison, far below federal guidelines.

But the deal was rejected last month by Senior US District Judge Edward M. Kosik, who said the two hadn’t fully accepted responsibility for the crimes, and the former judges switched their pleas to not guilty.

Yesterday’s indictment marked a dramatic escalation in the government’s pursuit of the disgraced judges. The charges include racketeering, fraud, money laundering, extortion, bribery, and federal tax violations and could bring decades in prison. The indictment also seeks the forfeiture of at least $2.8 million, “which is alleged to be the proceeds of the charged criminal activity,’’ according to a news release issued by the US attorney’s office in Harrisburg.

Lawyers for the judges declined to comment yesterday, saying they hadn’t seen the indictment.

Federal prosecutors issued a brief news release at 4:59 p.m. to announce the new charges, but it provided few details and the indictment itself was not yet docketed online. Heidi Havens, a spokeswoman for US Attorney Dennis C. Pfannenschmidt, refused to provide a copy.