Two former Pennsylvania judges were indicted Wednesday on federal racketeering charges in connection with a scheme to place juvenile offenders in privately owned detention centers.
A federal grand jury in Harrisburg returned a 48-count indictment against former Luzerne County Judges Michael Conahan and Mark Ciavarella Jr., who are accused of taking millions of dollars in kickbacks related to the construction of two youth detention facilities.
Conahan and Ciavarella had pleaded guilty in February to honest services frad and tax evasion in a deal with prosecutors that called for a sentence of 87 months in prison, far below federal guidelines. But the deal was rejected last month by Senior U.S. District Judge Edward M. Kosik, who said the two hadn't fully accepted responsibility for the crimes, and the ex-judges switched their pleas to not guilty.
Wednesday's indictment marked a dramatic escalation in the government's pursuit of the disgraced judges. The charges include racketeering, fraud, money laundering, extortion, bribery and federal tax violations and could bring decades in prison. The indictment also seeks the forfeiture of at least $2.8 million, "which is alleged to be the proceeds of the charged criminal activity," according to a news release issued by the U.S. attorney's office in Harrisburg.
Former PA Child Care owner Robert Powell, a lawyer, pleaded guilty July 1 to paying kickbacks to the judges. Prominent construction company owner Robert K. Mericle, who built the detention centers, pleaded guilty earlier this month to a charge of withholding information on a crime.