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Friday, February 13, 2009

Pennsylvania judges plead guilty to accepting kickbacks for sentencing juveniles
Jaclyn Belczyk at 10:52 AM ET

[JURIST] Two Pennsylvania judges pleaded guilty [US DOJ materials] Thursday to federal corruption charges [criminal information, PDF] filed [DOJ press release, PDF] last month claiming they accepted more than $2.6 million in kickbacks for sentencing teenagers to two private juvenile detention facilities in which they had a financial interest. Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas [official website] President Judge Mark Ciavarella and former President Judge Michael Conahan [plea agreements, PDF] were specifically accused of honest services fraud and tax fraud. A spokesperson for the Philadelphia-based Juvenile Law Center [advocacy website] said that juveniles arraigned before Ciavarella between 2003 and 2006 received excessive sentences. Both judges agreed to 87-month prison sentences for themselves, but the pleas will not be formally accepted until sentencing, which could take up to 90 days. The two issues yet to be determined are the amount the judges will be ordered to pay in restitution and whether Ciavarella wrongly incarcerated juveniles to benefit the two companies involved. These issues will be resolved [Scranton Times report] during the presentence investigation and through a possible hearing before the US District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania [official website]. The judges have also agreed to resign their positions and be disbarred. Also Thursday, families whose children were sentenced to the detention centers filed a lawsuit [Scranton Times report] against the judges and 14 other defendants, including the company that ran the detention facilities and two individuals who allegedly paid the judges. The judges allegedly received the payments into businesses they owned and in some cases falsely characterized the payments as rental income from a Florida condominium.

Judicial corruption cases in the US are relatively rare but not unprecedented. In the 1980s, 17 Illinois judges were indicted after the FBI and the DOJ joined forces in Operation Graylord [FBI backgrounder], aimed at judicial corruption in Cook County, Illinois. Fourteen judges were eventually convicted [list]. The first US federal judge convicted of corruption was Martin Manton [NYT backgrounder] of the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, who sold his vote in various patent cases after suffering financial hardship in the Great Depression. His conviction was upheld [NYT reports, PDF] by the Second Circuit itself in 1939 and he spent two years in federal penitentiary.






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