Archive for the ‘Pennsylvania’ Category

Kids-for-Cash Documentary Set to Debut This Weekend

November 15, 2013

A documentary about a juvenile justice scandal in Northeastern Pennsylvania will have its premiere this weekend at a film festival in New York.

“Kids for Cash” will be shown Sunday at the festival called DOC NYC. The film directed by Robert May examines the case of former Luzerne County judges Michael T. Conahan and Mark A. Ciavarella Jr. now serving lengthy prison terms.

Prosecutors say the judges locked away thousands of children at for-profit detention centers – often for minor offenses – in exchange for payments from the facilities’ builder and co-owner.

Last year, a federal judge approved a nearly $18 million settlement for 1,600 juveniles who said they were wrongfully incarcerated.

“Kids for Cash” also will have a special screening in Philadelphia on Feb. 5, two days before it’s released in theaters nationwide.

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Kids-for-Cash Documentary Set to Debut

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Former estate-planning lawyer faces federal charges in claimed $3M client theft case

November 15, 2013

A former Pennsylvania estate-planning lawyer is facing a federal wire fraud and money-laundering case, accused of bilking eight clients of over $3 million between 2007 and 2013.

Prosecutors say Wendy Weikal-Beauchat, 46, used fake certificates of deposit and IRS 1099 interest-reporting forms to cover up the claimed thefts, the Gettysburg Evening Sun reports.

Weikal-Beauchat was disbarred by consent earlier this year.

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Former estate-planning lawyer faces federal charges in claimed $3M client theft case

Pa. disciplinary court orders indicted Phila. Traffic Court Judge Michael Lowry suspended with pay

November 8, 2013

Pennsylvania’s Court of Judicial Discipline has denied a petition by the Judicial Conduct Board to suspend indicted Philadelphia Traffic Court Judge Michael Lowry without pay, ordering that the minor bench jurist receives his salary while serving out his punishment.

In an Oct. 25 order signed by President Judge Bernard McGinley, the CJD ruled that Lowry, who is facing charges in connection with a federal ticket-fixing probe, be suspended with pay until further notice.

The ruling is retroactive to Feb. 1 of this year, and orders that Lowry immediately receive any pay that has been withheld from him since that time.

Lowry faces felony charges in connection with a federal indictment in which he and eight other current and former Philadelphia Traffic Court judges are accused of fixing motor vehicle citations for relatives, friends and political acquaintances.

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Pa. disciplinary court orders indicted Phila. Traffic Court Judge Michael Lowry suspended with pay

Bucks lawyer indicted on tax, ID theft charges

October 23, 2013

A Bucks County lawyer was indicted for allegedly defrauding a client’s estate of more than $1.7 million, federal prosecutors in Philadelphia said Thursday.

Randolph Scott, 70, of Doylestown, Pa., who maintained his own law firm in Warrington, was charged with one count of mail fraud, two counts of aggravated identity theft, one count of tax evasion, one count of attempting to interfere with administration of internal revenue laws and three counts of failure to file income tax returns.

According to the indictment, between December 2005 and October 2011, while representing the estate of John C. Bready, Scott diverted approximately $1.76 million of estate funds to his law office accounts. Because the estate was valued at more than $6 million at the time of Bready’s death in 2005, federal law required that a federal estate tax return be filed which would have resulted in approximately $520,351 being paid to the Internal Revenue Service. The indictment alleges that Scott purposefully failed to file the required form in order to keep enough money in the estate to pay its beneficiaries and to avoid detection of the theft.

Prosecutors also said after the estate’s executor died in 2009, Scott failed to disclose the death so that the investment account manager would continue to send the executor’s checks to Scott’s law firm. Scott then allegedly forged the executor’s signature and deposited the checks into his law firm’s account. Prosecutors said Scott also had the successor executor sign a document renouncing the position of successor executor so that Scott could continue to forge the signature of the deceased executor and divert money belonging to the estate.

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Bucks lawyer indicted on tax, ID theft charges

Editorials from around Pennsylvania: Focus on Guardians Paramount

October 21, 2013

The issue of guardianships for the elderly and disabled gets lost amid the major issues of the day.

But the guardianship issue is not one to be regarded lightly, and it will become more significant as baby boomers continue to age.
That’s why Blair County court officials’ move to beef up the monitoring of such arrangements comes at a good time. The initiative must not become lost among other pressing county business.
Still, it was disconcerting to hear county officials admit that the current monitoring of such arrangements here leaves something to be desired. As reported in an article in the Oct. 6 Mirror, Blair County Prothonotary Carol Newman, in whose office guardianships are filed, described the local monitoring as “hit and miss.”
According to Newman, no organized process for tracking the county’s guardianship cases is in place. Thus, there could be instances where required annual reports have not been filed on time or at all, making it impossible to monitor what is happening in those cases.
That raises the question of whether there ever is comprehensive review of many of those reports that are received.

Again, the growth of the elderly population makes it imperative that the guardianship issue gets much more attention than it has received in the past. Meanwhile, the existing situation is an embarrassment for a county that usually prides itself on doing things right.

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Editorials From Around Pennsylvania

Trial begins for trio charged with bilking elderly Emmaus woman

October 11, 2013

Authorities say an elderly Emmaus woman died of a broken heart after finding out virtually everything she owned had been stolen from her, but attorneys for the three people charged with the alleged thefts insist their clients didn’t steal “a dime.”

Two of the three defendants, one of whom had owned the former Emmaus Diner, cared for Queen E. Hersh, 90, and benefited from her generosity but didn’t take any money without her knowledge, the attorneys said Wednesday during opening statements in the trial. The third defendant had almost no involvement at all, her attorney argued.

Lehigh County Chief Deputy District Attorney Charles Gallagher told the jury that Hersh died in December 2008, months after she received a foreclosure notice in the mail and learned she had been taken for more than $260,000.

Authorities say Penelope Veronikis, 51, masterminded the thefts, using some of the money for a tummy tuck and a breast lift,  credit card payments and department store trips. Also charged are her daughter, Barbara Paxos, 28, and former diner owner Hristos “Chris” Dimou, 51.

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Trial begins for trio charged with bilking elderly Emmaus woman

Westmoreland native, former congressman Bailey banned from law for 5 years

October 7, 2013

Attorney Don Bailey leaves the courtroom
 in December 2012 after a
state committee held a hearing 
on disciplinary action against him. 
(Matt Miller, The Patriot-News)
The state Supreme Court has ordered Greensburg native Don Bailey, a former Pennsylvania auditor general and U.S. congressman, to surrender his law license for five years.
 
The court on Wednesday ordered the suspension that was recommended in May by its Disciplinary Board.
 
Bailey violated the rules of professional conduct by making false statements critical of federal judges in Pennsylvania, the court said.
 
Although the Supreme Court ruling came in a three-sentence order, the Disciplinary Board’s 19-page recommendation attached to the order sharply criticized Bailey, who lives in Susquehanna Township, Dauphin County.
 
“(Bailey) fails to accept adverse judicial decisions by an objective review of the facts or the law. He simply concludes that such decisions are a result of a conspiracy against him or his clients,” the disciplinary board said.
 
“(Bailey) has not expressed regret or remorse for any statements that he made,” the board noted.
In a separate 2009 case, Bailey, who practiced in Harrisburg, was ordered to pay nearly $50,000 in fees and costs for making unfounded claims of judicial misconduct.
 
Bailey, 68, served as auditor general from 1985 to 1989. He served as congressman from 1979 until 1983, representing a Western Pennsylvania district eliminated in redistricting.

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Westmoreland native, former congressman Bailey banned from law for 5 years

Disgraced Conahan in default for ignoring lawsuit

October 5, 2013

Even behind bars, disgraced former Luzerne County Judge Michael T. Conahan is still dodging the law.

Conahan, locked away in federal prison, has ignored a civil lawsuit filed against him in connection with the kids-for-cash judicial scandal, federal court officials said Thursday.

The acting clerk for U.S. District Court in Scranton on Thursday ruled Conahan is in default for “failure to answer, plead, or otherwise defend against the complaint.”

Conahan is a defendant in a class-action civil rights lawsuit on behalf of thousands of juveniles who appeared in court before his colleague, former Judge Mark A. Ciavarella Jr. Both men are serving lengthy prison sentences for accepting kickbacks for placed juveniles in two for-profit detention centers. The default opens Conahan to damages when the case is finally resolved in federal court.

The suit also seeks damages from Ciavarella, PA Child Care LLC, Western PA Child Care LLC and Mid-Atlantic Youth Services Corp., which own and operate the centers in Pittston Township and Butler County, and the former co-owner of those companies, Robert J. Powell, a Drums attorney who paid the judges $770,000.

Wealthy developer Robert K. Mericle, who paid $2.1 million to Conahan and Ciavarella, who placed juveniles in two for-profit detention centers built by his construction firm, is no longer a defendant in the lawsuits. He won court approval last year for a $17.75 million settlement with more than 1,000 former offenders who appeared in the county juvenile court in 2004-2008. After the suit was initially filed, Conahan asked a court to dismiss the suit on the basis of “judicial and legislative immunity.” Since a federal judge denied the request, Conahan has not responded to the suit, court documents filed Thursday said.

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Disgraced Conahan in default for ignoring lawsuit

Court’s question: Which judges can suspend judges?

September 15, 2013

Right after Philadelphia Traffic Court Judge Mark A. Bruno was indicted in a federal ticket-fixing probe, the state Supreme Court landed on him hard, suspending him without pay.

But then, another judicial oversight organization weighed in. Not so fast, said the state Court of Judicial Discipline.

In May, that panel ruled that the federal case against Bruno was weak and ordered his pay – but not his duties – reinstated until his criminal trial.

With those rival rulings as a backdrop, a lawyer for the Judicial Conduct Board, the investigative and prosecutorial arm of the judicial court, stood in court Tuesday to argue that the Supreme Court needed to butt out – that it was the job of the conduct board and its judicial court to suspend judges.

In one of the day’s many ironies, Robert A. Graci had to make this argument to the very body whose actions he was challenging, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

Graci also argued that the Supreme Court had overstepped its bounds and wrongly sought to discipline another Traffic Court judge, Christine Solomon. In April, the justices put Solomon on notice that they planned to suspend her without pay for three months – a $22,000 cut – for allegedly stonewalling an internal inquiry into Traffic Court corruption.

The report from that inquiry gave Solomon some notoriety: She was quoted as having told investigators she was aware of ticket-fixing, but did not want to incriminate others by providing details.

The same report strongly suggested that a state Supreme Court justice, Seamus P. McCaffery, had fixed a ticket for his wife. McCaffery has denied this.

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Court’s question: Which judges can suspend judges?

Pa. CJD suspends indicted administrative Phila. Traffic Court judge without pay

August 20, 2013
Court of Judicial Discipline Judge Bernard L. McGinley

One of the jurists caught up in the ticket-fixing scandal at the now defunct Philadelphia Traffic Court has been suspended without pay.

Pennsylvania’s Court of Judicial Discipline has granted a petition by the Judicial Conduct Board to keep Judge Michael Sullivan off the bench without compensation until further notice.

Sullivan was one of nine judges who were indicted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Philadelphia earlier this year over allegations that they tossed motor vehicle citations for friends, relatives and the politically connected.

Sullivan, who sat on Philadelphia’s Traffic Court for a half-decade, had been administrative judge of that bench since 2011.

In an opinion accompanying its Aug. 9 order, the CJD drew contrast between its decision to grant fellow Traffic Court Judge Mark Bruno’s request to continuing receiving a paycheck during his suspension, and its ruling to have Sullivan’s paycheck canceled while his criminal charges are pending.

The CJD had earlier suspended Bruno with pay.

Essentially, the disciplinary court determined that the crimes with which Sullivan is being charged are more serious than those faced by Bruno.

“When Bruno and Sullivan are viewed alongside each other what is noticeable is their differences, not their similarities, so our decision that Bruno should be suspended with pay rather than without pay carries no precedential weight or influence in our deciding that question hear,” the CJD wrote in its opinion. “The extent and nature of the differences between the cases is easily recognized by reading what the Indictment alleges about the respective participation of Bruno and Sullivan in the illegal scheme described there.”

The disciplinary court also pointed out the differences between the various levels of involvement in the day to day operations of Traffic Court as justification for its decision to suspend Bruno with pay, and Sullivan without.

Bruno is an out-of-county magisterial district judge who occasionally heard Philadelphia motor vehicle cases on a per assignment basis while Sullivan was the administrative judge of Philadelphia Traffic Court who was there day in and day out, the CJD noted.

The court also stated that the federal government’s indictment doesn’t allege that Bruno ever placed anything in the mail or participated in any interstate phone calls or wire communications in furtherance of the allegedly illegal ticket-fixing scheme, while Sullivan is alleged to have used his position in the community to “fix” tickets for family members, friends, a former politician, a Philadelphia political ward leader and customers of the Fireside Tavern, a business owned by Sullivan, the CJD’s opinion states.

Federal prosecutors allege that Sullivan directed Fireside customers to leave their traffic citations or related documents at the city bar for him; tavern employees supposedly placed the documents in a box behind the bar.

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Pa. CJD suspends indicted administrative Phila. Traffic Court judge without pay