Legal Ethics

Lawyer Admits Helping Pa. Judges Hide Income

A Pennsylvania lawyer who initially posited himself as a victim of the massive Luzerne County jail-for-pay scandal has agreed to plead guilty to two felony charges against him and to forfeit his interest in a yacht and corporate jet.

Robert J. Powell, 49, who practiced in Hazelton, Pa., is cooperating with federal prosecutors who continue to investigate the case that has already resulted in guilty pleas from two former county judges, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports.

The corruption investigation involves some $2.6 million in kickbacks accepted by judges in exchange for sending juveniles to a detention facility, which Powell partially owned. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has authorized the dismissal of hundreds of juvenile cases heard by former president judge of Luzerne County, Mark Ciavarella Jr, one of the county judges who pleaded guilty in the jail-for-pay case.

Powell admits that he created false records to help Ciavarella and former judge Michael J. Conahan hide their income. The Inquirer also reports that Powell admits to paying cash to Conahan. The paper notes that Powell’s cooperation could earn him leniency at sentencing on tax and wire fraud charges. Powell faces up to 5½ years in prison and a $500,000 fine.

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