Civil Liberties

Corrupt Pennsylvania Judges Withdraw Guilty Pleas

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Last week Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan, the former Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, judges who admitted taking millions of dollars in kickbacks from the operator of two juvenile detention centers, withdrew their guilty pleas after a federal judge rejected their agreement with the U.S. Attorney's Office. Under that deal, which called for sentences of about seven years each, Ciavarella and Conahan pleaded guilty to tax evasion and honest services fraud (which federal law defines as a "scheme or artifice to deprive another [in this case, taxpayers] of the intangible right of honest services"). But they never admitted the most outrageous aspects of their scheme, which seems to be why U.S. District Judge Edwin Kosik rejected the plea agreement.

As chief judge of Luzerne County, Conahan arranged for PA Child Care to be the county's exclusive supplier of juvenile detention services, while Ciavarella, as the county's juvenile court judge, kept the company's jails full. Meanwhile, according to their plea agreement, they received $2.6 million from the company and hid the money from the IRS. Yet they did not acknowledge the obvious quid pro quo. The Wilkes-Barre Times Leader reports that Conahan refused to "discuss the motivation for his conduct with federal probation officials," who deemed his post-plea behavior "scandalous." Ciavarella, who had a reputation for dealing harshly and peremptorily with juvenile defendants and for denying them their right to counsel, nevertheless has insisted that the money from PA Child Care did not influence the sentences he imposed. (The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has expunged the records of some 6,500 defendants who appeared before Ciavarella between 2003 and 2008.) In rejecting their plea deal, Kosik cited Conahan and Ciavarella's failure to accept responsibility for their crimes.

The good news, for those who thought the seven-year prison terms were too light, is that Conahan and Ciavarella could end up with longer sentences. Assuming they do not reach a new plea agreement that meets with Kosik's approval, federal prosecutors are sure to pile on the charges in any indictment they issue. The most obvious additional charge is bribery, but other possibilities include mail fraud, money laundering, and racketeering. The bad news is that proving these charges will be a complicated, time-consuming, and uncertain process, during which two judges who grossly perverted justice for profit presumably will remain free and continue to draw their pensions.

Previous Reason coverage of this case here. The Philadelphia-based Juvenile Law Center, which was instrumental in exposing Ciavarella's mistreatment of juvenile defendants, has more here. The U.S. Attorney's Office has a website devoted to "Luzerne County Corruption Prosecutions" here.

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  1. It’s better this way. Allowing them to avoid dealing with the most egregious aspects of their corruption was a cop-out and a bad precedent. Dragging them through an embarrassing, public trial will hopefully send a message to other politicians, judges, etc. who may think of doing stuff like this.

    Well, probably not, but maybe.

  2. Hammer the fuckwads. I’m hoping that some judge gets so personally and professionally offended by these fuckwads’ actions that she sends them up the river for so long they die in prison.

  3. Hang ’em high.

  4. This is the sort of case that makes me loathe to completely eliminate the death penalty.

  5. I wonder, could the fact that they agreed to a plea deal be used against them in court or would it be considered inadmissible?

  6. This is why you don’t want a privatized jail system.

  7. This case simply solidifies my desire to see laws that increase penalties for crimes committed under the guise of public service. Sadly those who write the laws have no incentive (disincentive?)to do pass anything like that.

  8. I’m disappointed that out of 6500 criminal yoots, not even one aspires to righteous vigilantism.

    Bootstraps!

    federal prosecutors are sure to pile on the charges

    That’s some funny shit, kid.

  9. I wonder, could the fact that they agreed to a plea deal be used against them in court or would it be considered inadmissible?

    Inadmissible.

  10. The most obvious additional charge is bribery, but other possibilities include mail fraud, money laundering, and racketeering.

    How about false imprisonment/kidnapping/assault, etc?

  11. First, let me get out that this is good news.

    Ok. to you scumbag piece of shit Federal Imperial Government attorneys: What a bunch of spineless fucking cowards you are. How many kids does a judge fuck over to get a serious sentence? 7 years, fuck you cocksuckers. How many people would these judges have to fuck over to get a decade? Tens of thousands. Fucking pukes.

    This is the sort of case that makes me loathe to completely eliminate the death penalty.

    No, what they should do is issue baseball bats to the thousands (hey you fucking chickenshit DA’s it was fucking thousands!!!!) of kids and let them alone with these two judges in a closed room for two hours. No questions asked.

  12. “But they never admitted the most outrageous aspects of their scheme, which seems to be why U.S. District Judge Edwin Kosik rejected the plea agreement.”

    You Judge Kosik are a good man. We say a lot of bad stuff about judges on here and most of it is deserved. But kudos to this guy for not letting these scumbags off the hook.

  13. Ah, for the days when public officials such as these would be publicly tarred and feathered.

  14. if they don’t cop a plea this means that they face a trial by jury. If they are found guilty, then they will face considerably more than 7 years behind bars, especially when some or all of those kids who were falsely incarcerated testify at the sentencing hearing. So, kudos to judge Kosik.

  15. Threadjack alert:

    Read this story about MJ growing on public lands. The story is not terribly interesting, but look at the comments, nearly universal opinion to change the policy and law.

    http://www.govexec.com/story_page.cfm?articleid=43523&dcn=todaysnews

  16. Good. With the plea bargain disposed of, these assholes are facing the prospect of dying in prison, which is exactly what they deserve.

    They each should serve double the cumulative time in custody that they imposed on their victims.

    BTW, what’s happened to the company that paid the bribes? Is it out of business yet? Are its corporate officers in jail?

    -jcr

  17. 6500 defendants in one rural county !!? Are Luzerne Co. children that evil?

  18. for the latest updates from the area where this is happening check out that area’s (NE PA) local TV news station at http://www.wnep.com

  19. I mean for updates on this story. wnep did an interview with that judge not that long ago and they’ve also (like reason) been doing a good job covering this story since the beginning.

  20. ok one last comment, I remember seeing some young adult who said he couldn’t sign up for the military because of how this asshole judge fucked up his life. I don’t think they told him at the time if he would be allowed to have it expunged from his record.

  21. I can’t wait till the government is running our health care system.

  22. Apropos of this subject I recently watched Barry Levinson’s film Sleepers from 1996 with DeNiro and Brad Pitt. Concerns abuse of juveniles in a NY State facility and the story revolve around exactly the sort of revenge discussed here – check it out.

  23. USC TITLE 18 PART I CHAPTER 13 ? 242

    Deprivation of rights under color of law

    Whoever, under color of any law, statute, ordinance, regulation, or custom, willfully subjects any person in any State, Territory, Commonwealth, Possession, or District to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured or protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States, or to different punishments, pains, or penalties, on account of such person being an alien, or by reason of his color, or race, than are prescribed for the punishment of citizens, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than one year, or both; and if bodily injury results from the acts committed in violation of this section or if such acts include the use, attempted use, or threatened use of a dangerous weapon, explosives, or fire, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both; and if death results from the acts committed in violation of this section or if such acts include kidnapping or an attempt to kidnap, aggravated sexual abuse, or an attempt to commit aggravated sexual abuse, or an attempt to kill, shall be fined under this title, or imprisoned for any term of years or for life, or both, or may be sentenced to death.

  24. After reading this, the movie Holes, doesn’t seem quite so far fetched.

  25. I can’t wait till the government is running our health care system.

    Yeah, won’t it be fun when we see people getting bribed to misdiagnose patients so that they’ll get the most expensive treatment possible?

    -jcr

  26. shall be fined under this title, or imprisoned for any term of years or for life, or both, or may be sentenced to death.

    Wow, I didn’t know that the death penalty was an option in this case. I heartily approve.

    -jcr

  27. I live within sight of the courthouse these 2 pissants worked in and these 2 were just the tip of the iceburg. The Feds have bagged 10 others and its still going …… all Democrats

  28. Ironically, these crooked judges make a good argument for giving judges more discretion over setencing.

    Seven years may not seem like much, but under the sentencing guidelines, drug crimes are treated as much worse than mail fraud, tax evasion, bribery, etc. The rationale is that most white collar crimes of this sort usually don’t result in the loss of liberty for thousands of teenagers. Typically, white collar crimes just mean that money is lost, and in many cases, some of that money can be restored.

    Drug cases are seen as a direct subsidy on drug-related violence. We’re all well aware of the counterarguements (there’d be less violence if it were legal), but let’s face it, the public and the legislature are not on board with decriminalizing.

    Hence, Johnny Dimebag with one prior drug conviction gets a 10 year mandatory minimum. The most compassionate federal judge can’t change it. However, the odd white-collar crime case that involves deprivation of liberty (instead of just financial harm) is treated far more leniently.

    So why should a hard-working federal attorney build an intensive case when he’s got a guranteed 7 year plea, and he can clear a lot of the Johnny Dimebag cases with little effort? Bureaucrats act as they are incentivized to do, and our sentencing policy incentivized the DA to let these types of judges go and to hammer the Johnny Dimebags of the world.

  29. Wow, I didn’t know that the death penalty was an option in this case. I heartily approve.

    -jcr

    It’s not. The maximum sentence in a case without bodily injury is 1 year in prison and/or a fine. If bodily injury results, the maximum is ten years. If death results, then and only then does capital punishment become an option.

    However, even under the minimum sentencing guidelines it appears that a total of about 6500 years’ sentence could be handed out among the defendants.

  30. Judges will walk. They will claim they did not receive a fair trial because it is being held in the county.

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