The Legal Intelligencer by Leo Strupczewski And Hank Grezlak - September 10, 2009
Conahan and Ciavarella made a joint filing Aug. 20, petitioning U.S. District Judge Edwin M. Kosik to reinstate their agreed-upon sentence of 87 months in prison because neither could be found at fault for his post-plea hearing actions. Kosik rejected that Aug. 24. That same day, the former judges withdrew their guilty pleas and formally entered pleas of not guilty to the charges. Kosik threw out the plea agreements July 31, citing, in part, Conahan and Ciavarella's conduct following the announcement they had agreed to plead guilty to federal fraud charges and their refusal to accept responsibility for the crimes they had committed. Ciavarella's public comments were self-serving, he said, and Conahan was being obstructionist. In his Aug. 24 order, Kosik said in light of the presentence report and sentencing recommendation from the probation office, it was within his discretion to throw out the plea agreements. The probation officer's "assessment and justification for the recommendation" was partly the basis for Kosik's earlier conclusions that Conahan was obstructing justice, failing to discuss the motivation behind his conduct and failing to accept responsibility for his crimes, he said. "The probation recommendation characterized these failures by Conahan as based on his 'scandalous conduct,'" Kosik wrote in his Aug. 24 order. "The defense claims that a defendant is not required to admit relevant conduct beyond the offense of conviction. The court generally agrees, but the defendant was expected to admit relevant conduct related to the scandalous nature of the offense of conviction." In a telling footnote, Kosik said he had met with Conahan and Ciavarella's lawyers twice and rejected reconsidering the plea agreements both times. He said federal prosecutors as well as the defense attorneys had urged him to reconsider the plea deals. Both sides offered to meet with him separately "to explain each side's reasons for entering into the plea agreement," Kosik said. "The offer was rejected by the court because such a meeting might impermissibly involve the court in plea bargaining," he said. Later in the body of his opinion, Kosik said: "It ill behooves both parties to want the court to consider additional reasons to be conveyed in private."
While the government's press release made no mention of any charges beyond those related to the juvenile detention center, several sources said they expected the government to come back at some point with a superseding indictment seeking additional charges against Conahan and Ciavarella. While the federal government's case against the former judges centers on their roles in taking money from attorney Robert Powell, the owner, and Robert Mericle, the builder, of a juvenile detention facility and the judges' alleged abuse of the rights of juveniles sentenced to the facility, sources close to the investigation and inside Luzerne County say the scam some in the media have labeled "kids for cash" was just the tip of the iceberg andonly the most blatant example of the corruption allegedly overseen by the two judges. The Legal has previously reported Conahan's ties to admitted felons, including reputed mob boss William "Billy" D'Elia. Multiple sources have said that Conahan and his father also had links to Joseph Scalleat and Michael "Hoppy" Carsia. According to a former member of the now-defunct Pennsylvania Crime Commission, Scalleat and Carsia ran the mob in Hazleton for years. The Legal has also previously reported that federal investigators are looking at allegations of case-fixing in Luzerne County, particularly UM/UIM arbitration cases, as well as criminal case-fixing.
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