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Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Judge and the Mob Bagman

Tale of the Judge and the Mob Bagman Adds Ugly New Chapter to Scandal
The Legal Intelligencer by Leo Strupczewski - July 2, 2009

PHILADELPHIA, PA - A pair of witnesses testified during a court hearing Wednesday that reputed northeastern Pennsylvania mob boss William "Billy" D'Elia had envelopes delivered to disgraced former Luzerne County President Judge Michael T. Conahan at the courthouse and that Conahan met with D'Elia and another admitted felon multiple times to discuss fixing cases. The hearing was ordered by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court after a Wilkes-Barre newspaper argued that a defamation case handed down against the paper by Conahan's colleague, indicted former Judge Mark A. Ciavarella Jr., should be vacated. Lawyers for the newspaper are arguing that Conahan helped fix the case on behalf of a friend of D'Elia's. In petitioning to reopen the case, the newspaper's lawyers cited the judges' guilty pleas in federal court to honest services fraud charges, as well as newspaper articles in The Legal and its sister publication, Pennsylvania Law Weekly , detailing suspicions of case fixing in Luzerne County and ties to criminal figures.The key witness for the newspaper Wednesday was admitted felon Robert Kulick. During several of their routine cocktail sessions, D'Elia would discuss with him a defamation case that was pending in the Luzerne County Common Pleas Court, Kulick testified. Coverage of the case, Joseph v. Scranton Times , was in the Wilkes-Barre papers at the time, Kulick said Wednesday, and D'Elia would get upset when Thomas Joseph, a businessman, would deny any relationship with D'Elia.

A source had told the Citizens' Voice newspaper that federal officials were investigating Joseph to see if he used his direct mail and advertising business to launder money for D'Elia and if his taxi and limousine service was used to traffic guns, drugs and prostitutes between the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and Lehigh Valley international airports and Atlantic City, N.J., New York City and Philadelphia. Joseph was never charged with any wrongdoing and sought to distance himself from the reputed mob boss. In his lawsuit against the paper's parent company, he argued that articles written about him damaged his reputation and business. "It was hilarious," Kulick said of Joseph's denial during the court hearing in Allentown. "I'm sure there's records that money changed hands. I'm sure there's records that Billy D'Elia was Joseph's son's godfather." And just like everyone knew the real relationship between Joseph and D'Elia, Kulick said, D'Elia purported to know what the outcome of Joseph's defamation case would be. "According to him, he knew Tommy Joseph was going to win the case," Kulick said. "And we laughed about it." For more than two hours Kulick's testimony — which touched on socializing with Luzerne County judges and D'Elia, along with judicial case fixing — was the central focus of the first day of a multi-day hearing ordered by the state Supreme Court. The justices ordered the hearing in April and assigned Lehigh County Common Pleas Court President Judge William H. Platt to determine whether corruption in the Luzerne County Courthouse played a role in the assignment of Joseph's defamation suit to Ciavarella, who along with Conahan has conditionally pleaded guilty to federal fraud charges. Attorneys for the Scranton Times , the parent company of the Citizens' Voice newspaper, petitioned the court to use its King's Bench power to reopen the case after the two judges entered their conditional guilty pleas. Ciavarella, who heard the Joseph case, awarded Joseph and his businesses $3.5 million in damages after ruling that articles published by the Citizens' Voice damaged Joseph's reputation and businesses. During Wednesday's hearing, attorneys for the Scranton Times said they were attempting to show a conspiracy existed in Luzerne County to fix the outcome of certain cases, including the Joseph case. Joseph's attorney, George Croner, worked to poke holes in that theory from the beginning. Even before Kulick took the stand, Croner seemed set on discrediting the man's credibility. During his cross-examination of the Scranton Times 'first witness, a courthouse security guard named Patty Benzi, Croner concluded his questioning by asking her what Kulick's reputation for "truth and veracity" was in the community. "It's not good, is it?" Croner asked. Benzi, who grew apprehensive with Kulick sitting in court, dropped her voice and said, "It's OK." "Do you remember telling me," Croner followed up with Benzi, "that his reputation on a scale of 1 to 10 was a minus 1?" "Yes," Benzi said. Later, after Kulick had testified, Croner asked another of the newspaper's witnesses, Robert Jabers, a businessman who knows both D'Elia and Kulick, the same question. "It's deceitful," Jabers said. "He lies, he's a con man ... I wouldn't want to be in a fox hole with him." While cross-examining Kulick, Croner got Kulick to admit that he didn't know if Conahan ever took steps to fix cases.

The morning session, which featured opening arguments and a lengthy process in which attorneys for the newspaper introduced roughly 100 exhibits, was followed by a string of witnesses put on the stand by attorneys for the newspaper to show Conahan's link to D'Elia and Kulick helped determine the outcome of the Joseph case. That string began with Benzi, a security guard in Luzerne County's main court building who testified that D'Elia's access to the courthouse was so good that the reputed mob boss could leave his car in the employee parking lot and walk in through a secured prisoner's entrance. Benzi further testified that she ran between 10 and 20 plain white or 8 1/2 x 11 inch manilla envelopes from D'Elia directly to Conahan's hands over nearly a three-year period. On three occasions, Benzi alleged she left the envelopes with Conahan's tipstaff, Nick Callen. But, the security guard said, she would never leave the unmarked envelopes with anyone else. And she never left them unattended. Instead, she would abandon her security post when D'Elia arrived in the employee parking lot, retrieve the letter and take it straight to Conahan's chambers. Sometimes, Benzi said, she would walk straight past Conahan's secretary. Upon receipt, Conahan never asked whom the envelopes were from. "He'd say, 'Thank you,'" Benzi said. Benzi said she did not know what was in the envelopes. She said she never looked, never asked and was never told. Conahan, along with D'Elia and Conahan's cousin, former Luzerne County Court Administrator William T. Sharkey Sr., invoked their Fifth Amendment rights, according to attorneys in the case, and did not show for the hearing Wednesday. D'Elia has been described in publications as the reputed head of a northeastern Pennsylvania crime family. The Associated Press reported D'Elia pleaded guilty in March 2008 to money-laundering conspiracy and witness tampering charges. Sources told The Legal back in January that D'Elia was cooperating with federal investigators in their probe into corruption at the Luzerne County Courthouse. On Wednesday, Kulick shed some light on how the man he once considered a friend operated.The two would meet Conahan on a regular basis at Perkins Family Restaurant in Wilkes-Barre to socialize and, on occasion, discuss their interests in certain cases. One man or the other would walk away from the table so his counterpart could meet with Conahan in private and, at least in Kulick's experiences, the outcomes would sometimes be favorable to his interests, he said. The men also met inside the Luzerne County Courthouse, Kulick said, and at parties.During a Christmas party at Kulick's home, a local businessman asked Kulick and D'Elia to talk with Conahan about a case the businessman had before the judge. "Days later," Kulick said, "Billy D'Elia told me he did." •


Anonymous said...

Birds of a feather flock together. The mob or the judges cabal have the same rules. It's both talk like ducks and both quack like ducks.

Anonymous said...

Hey this is just like New York. The mob runs the courts in NYS and the Judges tow the line.

Anonymous said...

Does that surprise anyone.
Amazing that judges in N.Y are crying poverty. Look at thier bank accounts. Thier multi milion dollar houses. Thier multiple homes. Thier homes on the waterfront. Thier vacations, they are not sleeping a Days inn. Were did they get the money from.
You think that was gotten on 163,000 a year.

Anonymous said...

I miss the good old days when the mob had things organized- really organized. The way OCA is today, lives are still ruined, large sums of money still stolen for the chosen insiders but it's like the Wild West- anything goes. No one's in charge, and no one is looking over people. The New York State court system is a corrupt disaster zone. Stay away.


This is a total nightmare..and to think these criminals are getting paid a salary to commit these crimes!!!!!!!! Where the f--- are the FEDS?

Anonymous said...

The feds are chasing down the.... don't get my suit dirty financial crimes. The purpose of the FBI changed under Bush to become the more fragile intelligence group. Their mission statement is...we always get our man...if he is sitting in his office!
NY state needs the military to do the real hard job of foiling court corrupton..the real heroes of America.

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See Video of Senator John L. Sampson's 1st Hearing on Court 'Ethics' Corruption

The first hearing, held in Albany on June 8, 2009 hearing is on two videos:

               Video of 1st Hearing on Court 'Ethics' Corruption
               The June 8, 2009 hearing is on two videos:
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               CLICK HERE TO SEE Part 2
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