Juvenile Law Center

Luzerne County: Federal Criminal Charges

In January 2009, the U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Pennsylvania charged Luzerne County Common Pleas Court judges Michael Conahan and Mark Ciavarella with placing children in juvenile detention facilities in exchange for over $2.6 million in alleged kickbacks. Initially, both Conahan and Ciavarella entered guilty pleas that would have required them to serve 87 months in prison. However, in the summer of 2009, United States District Judge Edwin M. Kosik rejected the plea agreements, citing the severity of the charges and the judges' failure to accept responsibility for their wrongdoing.

In September 2009, a federal grand jury returned a 48-count indictment charging Conahan and Ciavarella with racketeering, conspiracy, and related charges in connection with the construction and operation of the juvenile detention and correctional centers. The new indictment alleged that they received nearly $2.9 million from the developer and former co-owner as part of this scheme. Conahan pled guilty in July 2010 to racketeering was sentenced in September 2011 to 17 and a half years in prison. LIkewise, Robert Powell, former co-owner of the detention facilities, pled guilty to failing to report a felony and serving as an accessory to a conspiracy, and real estate developer Robert Mericle pled guilty to failing to report a felony.

Due to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling clarifying the definition of "honest services fraud," Ciavarella was re-charged in a 39-count indictment in September 2010. He pled not guilty. In February 2011, a federal jury in Scranton, Pennsylvania found the former Luzerne County juvenile court judge guilty of 12 of 39 counts, including racketeering, racketeering conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy, conspiracy to defraud the United States, mail fraud, and the filing of false tax returns. (View the jury verdict slip here).

In the summer and fall of 2011, Judge Kosik sentenced Ciavarella, Conahan, and Powell. Ciavarella received a 336 months (28 years) prison term. Conahan received a 17.5 year prison term. Powell was sentenced to 18 months in prison. Robert Mericle has not yet been sentenced.

For more information and to see other key documents regarding the ongoing Luzerne County corruption investigation, visit the U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Pennsylvania's Public Corruption Prosecutions page.