WILKES-BARRE — It has been five years since federal prosecutors dropped a bombshell accusing two Luzerne County judges of taking kickbacks.
It was a scandal that rocked not only our area but the nation.
“This is a sad event when individuals who took an oath violate that oath and violate the law.”
It was an announcement that sent shock waves through northeastern Pennsylvania: two longtime Luzerne County judges accused of pocketing kickbacks in connection with a juvenile detention center.
Those judges – Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan – initially agreed to plead guilty to honest services fraud and tax evasion.
Later, that plea was rejected by a judge.
Conahan pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy.
Ciavarella was convicted after a trial on charges including racketeering, and mail fraud.
“I’m Mark’s friend and he’s somebody who I thought of as very intelligent and gave me very good legal advice and very good personal advice and I guess I just thought the whole thing with the money was so creepy, you know? That bothered me, that he had clearly taken money and tried to hide it and it just seemed so uncharacteristic of him,” said Ciavarella’s friend Kevin Lynn.
Lynn has known Mark Ciavarella for years. Lynn says when the news broke in late January of 2009, he was sad, but not shocked.
“I wasn’t surprised. I knew that something was happening. I knew that there was something percolating beneath the surface, but of course the day I got the call, I got a call from Mark, which I still have on my phone, and I was just heartbroken, of course.”
At the White House Diner in Forty Fort, owner Mark Hession spent the day talking with customers about the scandal. In fact, he says it’s still a topic of conversation.
“It was a lot of chatter, did they or didn’t they? And we know some of the people who were involved. We have people who come in here who were friends and a friend of a friend no matter what, But yeah, you wish things were different,” Hession said.
Al Flora was one of Mark Ciavarella’s defense attorneys. He was involved in negotiations before the charges were ever announced.
Flora says at the time, he had no idea how controversial the case was going to be.
“The day of the plea, that was chaotic. I remember going to the courtroom, the media were all over the place, and at that point in time, the media were expecting that something was going to happen soon. Ciavarella was fairly calm, I can tell you that. I think he wanted to get the matter behind him.”
The people we spoke with all agree on one thing: that day those judges were charged forever changed things in Luzerne County.