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More Luzerne County Allegations: A Possible Fixed Case and a Mobster Link

Posted Feb 20, 2009 9:03 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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The corruption allegations concerning judges and a court administrator in Luzerne County, Pa., aren’t letting up. The latest involves claims of a possible fixed case and a reputed mobster.

The claim involves two judges who pleaded guilty in a scheme to accept $2.6 million in kickbacks from the owners of a juvenile detention facility. Papers filed with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court allege a $3.5 million defamation award “very likely was a product of a corrupt judicial system,” the Associated Press reports. The Scranton Times-Tribune and the Times Leader also have stories.

In a June 2006 bench trial, President Judge Mark Ciavarella Jr. had awarded the damages to a businessman and one of his companies in a defamation suit against the Citizens Voice in Wilkes-Barre for a story linking the businessman to reputed mobster William D'Elia, the stories say. The parent company of the newspaper is seeking to overturn that award, claiming it has uncovered evidence that suggests the case may have been “fixed” by Ciavarella and now retired Judge Michael Conahan, the AP story says. Both judges pleaded guilty in February in the kickback scheme.

The newspaper said in the court papers that it had located a witness who would testify about connections between D'Elia and one or both judges. The filing also claims Conahan and court administrator William Sharkey Sr. steered the case into Ciavarella’s courtroom, according to the Times-Tribune account.

Sharkey has pleaded guilty to embezzling more than $70,000 in seized illegal gambling money that was to be used for court programs. He is Conahan’s first cousin, according to the Times Leader story.

The newspaper’s petition refers to a column in the Legal Intelligencer citing rumors “the investigation of the judges was the result of William D’Elia talking.” D’Elia pleaded guilty in November to conspiracy to commit money laundering and attempted witness tampering.

The fallout over the kickback scandal has spurred the remaining judges in the county to launch a review of all appointments and decisions made over the past seven years by Ciavarella and Conahan.

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