News and Press Releases
July 1, 2009

FEDERAL OFFICIALS ANNOUNCE THE GUILTY PLEA OF A LUZERNE COUNTY ATTORNEY ACCUSED OF AIDING MARK CIAVARELLA AND MICHAEL CONAHAN AVOID DETECTION IN TAX AND HONEST SERVICES FRAUD SCHEME

Martin C. Carlson, United States Attorney for the Middle District of Pennsylvania; Janice Fedarcyk, Special Agent in Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation; and Don Fort, Special Agent in Charge, Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation Division, jointly announced today that Robert J. Powell, age 49, an attorney from Hazleton, Pennsylvania, has entered a guilty plea to a criminal information. The criminal Information charges Robert Powell with failing to report a felony to federal authorities and with being an accessory after the fact to a tax conspiracy.

During a guilty plea proceeding today, Powell entered a guilty plea to both offenses. The criminal information charged that that between 2003 and 2008, Powell had knowledge of the actual commission of a felony, an honest services wire fraud committed by Judge Michael Conahan and Judge Mark Ciavarella, and did knowingly and intentionally conceal the crime by: (1) cooperating in the creation of false records designed to hide, disguise and mis-characterize income received by Conahan and Ciavarella; and (2) by transferring tens of thousands of dollars in cash to Michael Conahan with the intent that the cash not be traceable as income.

In federal court today, Powell also entered a guilty plea to a charge that Powell, knowing that the offense of conspiracy to file false income tax returns had been committed by Michael T. Conahan and Mark A. Ciavarella, intentionally assisted the offenders in order to hinder and prevent their arrest and apprehension.

According to Mr. Carlson, the plea agreement calls for Robert Powell to plead guilty to these offenses, which carry a total penalty of up to 5 ½ years imprisonment and fines of up to $500,000. Additionally, the defendant has agreed to forfeit his ownership interest in a 2002 Ocean Yacht 56 Super Sport named “Reel Justice” and a 1981 Sabreliner 65 corporate jet.

U.S. Attorney Carlson noted that, once the investigation into Judge Conahan and Judge Ciavarella became known, Robert Powell agreed to cooperate with investigators and prosecutors in this public corruption probe. Under the terms of the plea agreement, Powell has agreed to continue to truthfully cooperate with authorities in their on-going probe of this, and other, matters.

According to U.S. Attorney Carlson, Powell is the eighth person charged with criminal conduct since late January of this year in this on-going public corruption investigation targeting public corruption in Luzerne County. In January 2009 Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan, the former President Judges of the Court of Common Pleas of Luzerne County were charged with engaging in an honest services fraud and tax conspiracy. They have pleaded guilty to these charges and are awaiting sentencing. William Sharkey, the former Court Administrator of Luzerne County, has pleaded guilty to embezzlement charges and is awaiting sentencing. Sandra Brulo, the former Deputy Director of Forensic Programs for the Luzerne County Probation Office, has pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice and is awaiting sentencing.


In addition, On April 20, 2009, Brian Dunn, age 45, a member of the school board for the Wilkes-Barre Area School District, was charged in a criminal complaint with allegedly accepting cash in connection with the hiring of teachers and the awarding of contracts by the Wilkes-Barre Area School District. On May 18, James Height, age 53, of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, who resigned recently as President of the Wilkes-Barre Area School District Board of Education, has been charged in a criminal information with allegedly accepting $2,000 in cash in connection with support he provided to a contractor in connection with an attempt by the contractor to obtain a contract with the Wilkes-Barre Area School District. On May 20, 2009 Dr. Ross Scarantino, age 63, of Duryea, who recently tendered his resignation as Pittston Area School District Superintendent, was charged in a criminal information with allegedly accepting $5,000 in cash in connection with support he provided to a contractor in connection with the contractor obtaining a contract with the Pittston Area School District. Scarantino and Height have both pleaded guilty to these charges and agreed to cooperate with this on-going investigation.


As a result of the investigation, former Luzerne County Prothonotary Jill Moran also resigned from her office and voluntarily agreed to the entry of a court order directing her to cooperate with the on-going federal public corruption probe looking into allegations of misconduct at the Luzerne County Courthouse.
On April 8, the FBI issued a statement requesting the public’s assistance in this on-going investigation. Anyone with information is asked to call the public corruption task force toll free at 1-855-789-1868.


This case is part of an on-going investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Internal Revenue Service and is being prosecuted by a team of federal prosecutors led by Senior Litigation Counsel Gordon Zubrod and includes Assistant U.S. Attorneys William Houser, Michael Consiglio, Amy Phillips and Criminal Division Chief Christian Fisanick. Carlson praised this team of investigators and prosecutors for their tireless efforts on behalf of the people of Luzerne County.


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An Indictment or Information is not evidence of guilt but simply a description of the charge made by the Grand Jury and/or United States Attorney against a defendant. A charged Defendant is presumed innocent until a jury returns a unanimous finding that the United States has proven the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt or until the defendant has pled guilty to the charges.

Martin C. Carlson
U.S. Attorney
(717) 221-4482

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