Monday, 2 June 2014

Two  horrible  judges                 

The job of a judge is not an easy one. Aside from having to know the law and court procedures, they also have the extremely difficult task of assessing the truthfulness of witnesses and accused alike which is not an easy job at all. They well deserve the salaries they are paid.

But unfortunately, once in a while, we learn of dishonest judges who tarnish their profession. In this article, I am going to tell you about two of the most horrible judges in the United States and those whom they associated with.

Mark Ciavarella Jr. was born in 1950. From 1976 to 1978 he was the city solicitor of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania and then from 1978 until 1995 he served as solicitor for the city’s zoning board. In 1995 he ran for the position of judge in Luzerne County on the Democrat ticket and was elected to a ten year term. He was re-elected to a second ten year term in 2005. During his latter years on the bench, he served as a   Juvenile Court Judge. He sentenced children to extended stays in juvenile detention for offenses as minimal as mocking a principal on Myspace, trespassing in a vacant building, and shoplifting DVDs from Walmart. He did this in order to generate illicit kickbacks in the Cash for Kids scandal. He was later convicted of accepting money in exchange for incarcerating thousands of adults and children into a prison facility owned by a developer who was paying him under the table. The kickbacks amounted to more than $1 million.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has overturned some 4,000 convictions issued by him between 2003 and 2008, claiming he violated the constitutional rights of the juveniles – including the right to legal counsel and the right to intelligently enter a plea. Some of the juveniles he sentenced to the detention facilities were as young as 10-years old.

Ciavarella was convicted of 12 counts, including racketeering, money laundering, mail fraud and tax evasion. He was also ordered to repay $1.2 million in restitution.

Michael T. Conahan was born in 1952. He served from 1994-2007 as Judge on the Court of Common Pleas. In January 2008, Conahan became the senior judge of Luzerne County. He was accused of agreeing to generate at least $1.3 million per year in costs that could be billed to taxpayers in exchange for kickbacks in the Cash for Kids scandal. Conahan used his budgetary discretion to stop funding the county public youth detention facility and agreed to send teens instead to a new private facility. He was also accused of agreeing to generate at least $#1.34 million per year in costs that could be billed to the taxpayers in exchange for kickbacks. He originally pleaded guilty to the charges but but later he with drew his plea Afterwards he was indicted along with his fellow judge, Ciavarella on charges of money laundering, fraud and racketeering. In Seoptember 2011, he was sentenced to seventeen and a half years in prison and ordered to pay $#8743,000 in restitution.         

Cash for Kids

A scandal unfolded in 2008 over judicial kickbacks at the Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. The two aforementioned judges, Judge Mark Ciavarella and Judge Michael Conahan, were accused of accepting money from Robert Mericle, the builder of two private, for-profit juvenile facilities, in return for contracting with the facilities and imposing harsh sentences on juveniles for minor crimes brought before their courts so that they could increase the number of inmates in the two detention centers and get kickbacks in return.

Federal prosecutors accused Mericle, 51, of helping then-Luzerne County judges Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan conceal the source of more than $2 million in “finder’s fees” paid to those two crooked judges by Mericle and attorney Robert Powell in connection with the construction of two juvenile detention centers built by Mericle’s company which were called the PA Child Care facility in Pittston Township and the Western PA Child Care Center in Butler County, 

Apparently, paying the fees was not illegal, (which is strange indeed) but at Ciavarella’s request, Mericle sent the payments through a third party — Powell, the former co-owner of the juvenile detention centers. Mericle’s crime was that he hadn`t disclosed this action when he was questioned by Internal Revenue Service.

The former Juvenile Court Judge Mark A. Ciavarella, Jr. and the former Judge Michael T. Conahan, both of the Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas, were charged with conspiring to impede the Internal Revenue Service in the collection of federal income taxes and with having devised a scheme to defraud the citizens of Luzerne County and of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania of the right to their honest services by concealing their receipt of more than $2.6 million between January of 2003 and April of 2007. 

The defendants were accused of having engaged in fraud by taking millions of dollars from two unnamed persons in connection with the construction, expansion and operation of juvenile detention centers in Luzerne County and elsewhere. Between 2004 and 2007, both judges filed materially false annual statements of financial interests with the Administrative Office of the Pennsylvania Courts in which they failed to disclose the sources of income they received from these unnamed persons, and in which they failed to disclose their financial relationship with these businesses. At the same time the Judges were allegedly concealing these payments and financial ties, the two judges took discretionary actions in a number of matters involving the juvenile detention facilities without recusing themselves from those matters and without disclosing to parties involved in the proceedings their conflict of interest.

These actions included: Taking official action to remove funding from the Luzerne County budget for the Luzerne County juvenile detention facility, effectively closing that facility; Ordering juveniles to be sent to these facilities in which the judges had a financial interest even when Juvenile Probation Officers did not recommend detention;

Entering a “Placement Guarantee Agreement” to house juveniles in a facility in which the judges had an interest guaranteeing that the Court of Common Pleas would pay an annual “Rental Installment” sum of $1,314,000, without disclosing payments received by the judges; and,

Summarily granting motions to seal the record and for injunctive relief in a civil case relating to a juvenile detention facility in which the judges had a financial interest.

Both defendants also accepted payments into businesses that they controlled, and in some instances falsely identified the payments as rental fees for a Florida condominium. The defendants conspired to impede the Internal Revenue Service by making false entries in business records and falsely characterizing the payments they received.

Conahan ultimately pleaded guilty to a charge of racketeering and conspiracy and was sentenced to seventeen and a half years in prison.  
Powell, one of the co-owners of the juvenile detention centers at the heart of the scandal, testified at Ciavarella’s trial that the former judges extorted money from him in exchange for actions they took on the bench related to the centers. Powell pleaded guilty to failing to report the illegal activity of Ciavarella and Conahan. He cooperated with federal investigators and wore a concealed recording device in meetings with the former judges. He completed an 18-month sentence in early 2013.

Ciavarella was the only one of the four key players in the scandal to go to trial. He was convicted in 2011 by a federal jury on 12 out of 39 counts and sentenced to 28 years in what has widely been called the “Kids for Cash” scandal, a label he has repeatedly rejected, insisting he never incarcerated children in exchange for money. His series of appeals came to an end when the U.S. Supreme Court rejected his petiton for an appeal of his conviction and sentence. 

Mericle, meanwhile, languished in limbo, as his case was linked to others. In 2009, the charge against him carried a sentence of three years in prison but in January 2011, the prosecutors amended a previous deal calling instead for 12 to 18 months in prison. That followed his implication in another corruption case with respect his dealings with a crooked senator, state sennator Raphael Musto. That man's ill health delayed the proceedings and the day before the sentencing proceedings for Mericle were to begin, Musto, age 88 died.   

 Mericle walked into court facing the prospect of an eight-to-14-month prison sentence under standard sentencing guidelines. The U.S. Attorney’s Office sought a reduced sentence of six to eight months, citing Mericle’s cooperation with the government, including his testimony against Ciavarella. The government even said, in previous filings, that it would take no position on whether Mericle should serve his sentence behind bars or under some form of probation. He was sentenced to one year in prison and given an option of choosing which federal prison he would like to serve his time in. He chose one near Dallas where his family lives.

This was a terrible and sad saga in the lives of all those unfortunate people who suffered so much under the actions of those despicable people—especially by the machinations of those two horrible judges. 

No comments: