Two lawfirms - Cefalo & Associates of West Pittston and Caroselli, Beachler, McTiernan & Conboy in Pittsburgh - filed the lawsuit on behalf of hundreds of children and their families who were impacted by Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas judges Mark A. Ciavarella Jr. and Michael T. Conahan.
Ciavarella, 58, and Conahan, 56, pleaded guilty in federal court on Thursday to conspiring to impede the Internal Revenue Service in the collection of federal income taxes and with having devised a scheme to defraud the citizens of Luzerne County of their right to honest services, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Middle District of Pennsylvania.
Federal authorities alleged Ciavarella and Conahan accepted more than $2.6 million from January 2003 to April 2007 from the construction and operation of juvenile detention facilities, including PA Child Care in Pittston Township. They have agreed, according to federal court documents, to serve 87 months in federal prison.
According to a joint news release from the two law firms, the civil complaint alleged Ciavarella and Conahan - acting under the cloak of the court - willfully and knowingly engaged in racketeering activity and deprived the children of their civil rights.
"At the hands of two grossly corrupt judges and several conspirators, hundreds of Pennsylvania children, their families and loved ones, were victimized and their civil rights were violated," Attorney Michael J. Cefalo said. "It's our intent to make sure that the system rights this terrible injustice and holds those responsible accountable."
In addition to Ciavarella and Conahan, the civil complaint lists defendants as:
Robert J. Powell, The Powell Law Group, P.C. in Butler Township, PA Child Care., LLC, Western PA Child Care, LLC, Robert K. Mericle, Mericle Construction, Inc., Gregory Zappala, Pinnacle Group of Jupiter, LLC, Barbara Conahan, Cindy Ciavarella, Beverage Marketing of PA, Inc., Vision Holdings, LLC, Mid Atlantic Youth Services Corp., and an unnamed attorney.
The news release from the law firms alleges the defendants in the civil case participated in and benefitted from the criminal activity engaged by Ciavarella and Conahan. Powell allegedly conspired, according to the news release, with other defendants as far back as 2003 to arrange millions in payments to the judges and then further conspired to conceal the payments.
Powell also benefitted from the illegal activity, the news release from the law firms alleges.
"The one place our kids should absolutely feel safe is in our system of justice, but in this case, the system served injustice," Attorney William R. Caroselli said.