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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Two Judges Agree to Plead Guilty to Kickback Scheme Involving Juvenile Offenders

Two Pennsylvania judges agreed Monday to plead guilty to fraud charges accusing them of taking $2.6 million in kickbacks in return for placing juvenile offenders into certain detention facilities.

The plea agreements for Luzerne County President Judge Mark Ciavarella and Senior Judge Michael Conahan call for sentences of more than seven years in prison. Ciavarella resigned from the bench in a Jan. 23 letter to Gov. Ed Rendell. Conahan has agreed to resign within 10 days of a judge's acceptance of the plea.

Authorities say the judges took kickbacks between 2003 and 2007 in exchange for guaranteeing the placement of juvenile offenders into facilities operated by PA Child Care and Western PA Child Care LLC. In some cases, Ciavarella ordered children into detention even when juvenile probation officers did not recommend it.

"They sold their oaths of offices to the highest bidders," Deron Roberts, chief of the FBI's Scranton office, said at a news conference Monday.

U.S. Attorney Martin Carlson stressed the charges were "the first developments in an ongoing investigation" into public corruption at the courthouse in Wilkes-Barre.

PA Child Care and Western PA Child Care have not been charged with wrongdoing.

Conahan's lawyer, Philip Gelso, declined comment.

Ciavarella attorney Al Flora told The Citizen's Voice of Wilkes-Barre that the charges are just "allegations." He added that the plea agreement is conditional on the defendants accepting the facts prosecutors present at the plea hearing, which has not yet been scheduled.

"Everything could fall apart," he told the paper.

Luzerne County District Attorney Jackie Musto Carroll said her office would review cases in which offenders might have been improperly placed into juvenile detention.

Read full article here. [Brooks Holland]

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