Once again former Luzerne County Judge Mark Ciavarella challenged his conviction in the “Kids for Cash” scandal and asked a federal appeals court to rehear his argument on the ineffectiveness of his trial attorneys.
In a petition for rehearing filed April 10, Ciavarella, through his attorney Jennifer Wilson, took aim at the three honest services mail fraud charges an appellate court panel left standing in its March 29 ruling. The petition was filed within the 14-day deadline of the panel’s ruling.
The panel of three judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for 3rd Circuit in Philadelphia rejected the argument Ciavarella’s convictions on the felonies should have been included with the others vacated by a lower court on the grounds the attorneys at his 2011 trial failed to raise a defense that the alleged crimes occurred beyond the five-year statute of limitations for filing charges.
Federal prosecutors charged Ciavarella and former county judge Michael Conahan in 2010 with participating in a $2.8 million kickback scheme involving the construction of two, private for-profit juvenile detention centers in Pittston Township and Butler County and the placement of youths in the facilities.
Ciavarella, 69, went to trial, was convicted by a jury and sentenced to 28 years in prison. He’s an inmate at the Federal Correctional Institution in Ashland, Ky., and has a release date of Dec. 30, 2035.
Ciavarella’s sentence could be affected by the panel’s ruling that affirmed a retrial ordered by U.S. District Chief Judge Christopher C. Conner of Harrisburg on the charges of racketeering, racketeering conspiracy and conspiracy to launder money. The petition for hearing on the honest services mail fraud could further affect his sentence.
In the petition, Wilson stated that jury found him guilty of taking kickbacks in 2003 totalling $997,600 and acquitted him of receiving illegal payments from 2004 through 2006. If he was convicted on all those counts the total would have been $2,819,500.
The alleged scheme to conceal the payments was carried out by mailing fraudulent financial statements to the Administrative Office of the Pennsylvania Courts from 2004 through 2007. But Ciavarella’s trial attorneys did not raise a statute of limitations defense, Wilson said, and the jury would not have had any reason to determine when the scheme ended.
The verdicts also supported her argument, Wilson maintained. She said, “Stated differently, if the verdicts on Counts 8, 9, and 10 are allowed to stand, then a bribe or kickback completed in 2003, outside the period of limitations, may have been used to sustain Honest Services Mail Fraud convictions in years in which the jury found that no illegal payments were received.”
Ciavarella has been serving his sentence at the Federal Correctional Institution in Ashland, Ky. His release date is Dec. 30, 2035.
Conahan, 66, pleaded guilty in 2010 to racketeering and was sentenced in 2011 to 17½ years in prison. He is an inmate at the Federal Correctional Institution in Miami, Fla., with a release date of Dec. 18, 2026.
Reach Jerry Lynott at 570-991-6120 or on Twitter @TLJerryLynott.