Friday, January 30, 2009

NEPA : Poor JUDGEment

Prison for profit - with juveniles!

DISHONORED: The two judges who led the Luzerne County Court for the last seven years took $2.67 million in payoffs for helping a private juvenile detention center reap millions from county contracts, with one of the judges going so far as to sentence children to detention over the objections of juvenile probation officers to benefit the center, federal prosecutors alleged Monday.

Feds: Judges used system to enrich selves. Allegations are that Ciavarella, Conahan took $2.6M in kickbacks in exchange for judicial rulings regarding juvenile detention centers.

WNEP's "Corruption in Luzerne County" page.

...but what's going on in Florida, too?

What's the deal with Judge Toole and attorney Powell and the Jupiter Yacht Club in Florida? Why was a case about a Florida Yacht Club heard in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania? Strange!!!

Powell’s yacht tied to condo linked to judges: Luzerne County Judge Michael Toole in 2004 ruled in favor of attorney Robert Powell in a dispute regarding the docking of his yacht at a marina at the Florida condominium connected to judges Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan.

What's going on with Mericle Construction? And Florida again?

MERICLE MAN: Mericle Construction Inc., which built the juvenile centers, transferred more than $1 million to a Florida company controlled by the judges

Why does Florida keep popping up in everything?

Judge Conahan, wife connected to former drug Florida

...and Judge Conahan directed government money to a bank in which he was a director! Where billionaire casino owner and reputed mobster Louis A. DeNaples was chairman of the board until his recent indictment on perjury charges!

Former Luzerne County President Judge Michael T. Conahan directed millions of government dollars to a bank of which he is a director by ordering the county’s magisterial district judges to deposit their fines there, county and state officials say.

Attorney Robert Powell and attorney Greg Zappala. Powell and Zappala partnered on both the juvenile detention center and the Hazleton cargo airport ventures.

It looks like the same cast of characters was in on the Hazleton cargo airport, too! Commissioners Skrepenak and Vonderheid pushed both the juvenile detention center and the cargo airport projects. Maybe the cargo airport project was scrapped because Judges Ciavarella and Conahan couldn't figure out a way to direct prison labor there!

Butler Township attorney Robert J. Powell is selling his interest in a Pittston Township juvenile detention center and the company developing a proposed $1.6 billion regional cargo airport in the Hazleton area. Gregory Zappala, 47, who partnered with Powell on both ventures, is buying Powell’s interest, “ensuring there will be no change in the operations of the companies

Update in this morning's paper:

Attorney Robert J. Powell, whose holding company allegedly paid kickbacks to Luzerne County Judge Mark A. Ciavarella Jr., won nearly $16 million for his clients in Ciavarella’s courtroom from June 2005 through February 2008, county court records show.

Attorney Robert Powell got defensive during the February 2003 ribbon-cutting ceremony for his newly opened Pittston Township juvenile detention center, saying he bit his tongue while the project was “politicized beyond belief.”

Big Dan has questions:Shown from the left: Rob Mericle of Mericle Commercial Real Estate; DEP Secretary McGinty, Leo Kucewicz, executive assistant to Sen. Ray Musto (D-14); Rosemary Dessoye, executive vice-president of the Greater Pittston Chamber of Commerce; and Lew Sebia, chief operating officer for Mericle Commercial Real Estate.

Read the following excerpts from the excellent local newspaper coverage:

The information filed today alleges the judges received payments from two persons, identified as Participant # 1 and Participant # 2. They are not named, but the information says Participant # 1 was a Luzerne County attorney who was an owner of the Pennsylvania Child Care juvenile detention center that is at the core of the government’s case. Butler Township attorney Robert J. Powell was until June one of two co-owners of Pennsylvania Child Care. The other owner, Gregory Zappala, who is now sole owner of the firm, is a Pittsburgh-area investment banker. Most of the $2.6 million in payments to Ciavarella and Conahan went to Pinnacle Group of Jupiter LLC, a company controlled by the judges that owned an exclusive Florida condominium. The payments were disguised as rental fees for the condo and a related dock.

The information says Participant #2 was the contractor that built Pennsylvania Child Care’s local facility and another in Butler County. The contractor for both projects was Mericle Construction Inc., headed by local developer Robert Mericle.

A spokesman for Mericle Construction, attorney Lew Sebia (Mericle Construction Chief Operating Officer) released the following statement at 5 p.m.:

"Neither Rob Mericle nor Mericle Construction has been charged with any offense. (bd: They always say this. When they're actually charged, they never issue a statement: "OK, now they just got charged"; this is standard) Mr. Mericle has cooperated with all authorities with respect to this investigation and will continue to do so in the future without exception. At no time did Rob Mericle or Mericle Construction ever make any payment to influence a decision to secure a contract to build any PA Child Care facility. (bd: Notice: Sebia did NOT say Mericle Construction never made any payments to the judges Florida company Pinnacle Group of Jupiter LLC" - pretty slick, huh???) Mr. Mericle’s participation to construct these facilities was sought out because of his demonstrated expertise in construction and development. (bd: No one is questioning Mericle Construction's "expertise", we're questioning the kickbacks!!!)"
Big Dan's Big Question: "What was the role of Lew Sebia, the lead counsel and COO of Mericle Construction / Real Estate Co.? Was he the legal operative of "Participant #2" (Mericle)??? Are we all expected to believe that Lew Sebia, the legal counsel for Mericle and COO of Mericle Construction, was unaware that Mericle was a participant in paying $2.6 million in kickbacks to Pinnacle Group of Jupiter LLC in Florida (controlled by Judges Ciavarella and Conahan) and Beverage Marketing (controlled by Judge Conahan)???"

NEPA: #3 and counting, in the Luzerne County Courthouse corruption continuing probe by the FEDS. Rumor has it, many more are expected to go down!

Sharkey faces the JAWS of JUSTICE!

Luzerne County Court Administrator William T. Sharkey Sr., the highest-paid non-judicial employee in the county court system, has agreed to plead guilty to pocketing more than $70,000 seized in illegal gambling cases over 10 years, federal prosecutors said Tuesday.

Sharkey is the third high-ranking court official snared in a wide-ranging, ongoing federal probe of the county court system.


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