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Judge pleads guilty in kickback scheme

Associated Press / July 24, 2010

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PHILADELPHIA — A former judge in northeastern Pennsylvania pleaded guilty yesterday to a racketeering conspiracy charge for his role in a kickback scheme that put juvenile defendants, many without lawyers, behind bars for sometimes minor offenses.

Michael Conahan, 58, faces up to 20 years in prison after his plea in Scranton federal court. No sentencing date was set.

Court documents do not indicate if Conahan will testify against the other former Luzerne County judge charged in the case, Mark Ciavarella Jr. Conahan’s lawyer, Philip Gelso, declined to comment yesterday.

Ciavarella has maintained his innocence and will go to trial.

Prosecutors accuse the pair of taking $2.8 million in kickbacks from two private detention facilities. Conahan, as president judge, shut down a county-owned juvenile center while Ciavarella, the juvenile court judge, filled beds at the for-profit facilities, they charged.

The indictment was part of a federal corruption investigation in Luzerne County that has so far ensnared more than two dozen people, including a school superintendent and a court administrator.

Ciavarella, 60, shackled children, denied them legal counsel, and removed them from their ings, juvenile advocates said.

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