A Pennsylvania judge who pleaded guilty last week to taking part in a kickback scheme has been accused by a Wilkes-Barre newspaper of fixing an unrelated defamation case in which he ordered the paper to pay $3.5 million.
The accusation was filed Thursday with the State Supreme Court in a petition asking that the award be overturned. The petition maintains that the former judge, Mark A. Ciavarella Jr., may have had close ties to a reputed mobster at the heart of the defamation case and that the award should be reviewed in light of the corruption to which Mr. Ciavarella has now admitted.
The filing, by The Citizens Voice, comes as the list of possible conspirators continues to grow in the kickback case, one of the worst episodes of judicial misconduct in Pennsylvania history. In that case, Mr. Ciavarella and Michael T. Conahan, a judge with whom he worked in the court system of Luzerne County, in northeastern Pennsylvania, pleaded guilty last week in a federal court in Scranton to wire fraud and conspiracy.
Prosecutors say the judges took payoffs of more than $2.6 million to send teenagers to two privately run youth detention centers. Their plea agreements call for sentences of more than seven years in prison.
In the latest turn in that case, federal officials on Friday charged a high-ranking Luzerne County probation official, Sandra Brulo, with obstructing justice and altering an official record.
Ms. Brulo is a defendant in a class-action lawsuit filed by families of juveniles who appeared before the two judges, and her lawyer quoted prosecutors as saying that she had altered the document so as to hide her culpability. The lawyer, Joseph Sklarosky Sr., declined to comment further, and the nature of the culpability attributed to Ms. Brulo is unclear.
Federal authorities said that their corruption investigation in the county was far from finished and that others might be charged in coming weeks.
As for the defamation judgment, it dates from 2006, when Judge Ciavarella awarded $2 million to a businessman, Thomas Joseph, and $1.5 million to Mr. Joseph’s direct-mail marketing firm.
Mr. Joseph had sued The Citizens Voice over a series of articles that tied him to a money-laundering case involving William D’Elia, reputed head of the Bufalino crime family in northeastern Pennsylvania, who had been convicted of witness tampering and conspiracy to launder drug money.
In its new petition, the paper said Judges Ciavarella and Conahan had improperly ensured control of the case by skirting established procedures for the assigning of cases and getting this one routed to themselves.
They had help in this, the petition said, from the court administrator, William Sharkey, Judge Conahan’s cousin. Mr. Sharkey pleaded guilty this week to stealing $70,000 in illegal gambling proceeds that were to be turned over to the county treasurer’s office.
The newspaper said the recent developments in the continuing investigation of the former judges’ conduct on the bench “have fueled rampant rumors and speculation that Judge Conahan and Judge Ciavarella were fixing cases at the behest of William D’Elia.”
And, it said, it has a witness who can testify that Judge Ciavarella or Judge Conahan, or both, had direct connections to Mr. D’Elia. The witness was not identified.
Lawyers for the two former judges declined to comment.
The authorities say the two judges initiated the scheme of kickbacks from the privately run juvenile detention centers by first shutting down a county-owned center, claiming that it was in poor condition. This week the union representing employees who were laid off when the facility was closed sent a letter to county officials demanding redress.
The union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represented the 16 full-time child care workers who lost their jobs, said they should be offered reinstatement with the county and be “made whole for any damages they may have suffered.”
Judge Guilty in Kickbacks Is Accused of Fixing Suit - NYTimes.com
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