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Ciavarella blocked from pension

Court shields funds for possible use as restitution in former judge’s corruption case.

SCRANTON – A court order placed the pension of former Luzerne County Judge Mark A. Ciavarella off limits to him and safeguarded the funds for restitution for his role in a $2.6 million kickback scheme involving the construction of juvenile detention centers and the placements of youths in the facilities.

Senior U.S. Judge Edwin Kosik issued a restraining order Tuesday after the U.S. Attorney’s Office said Ciavarella asked to withdraw the money in his account with the Pennsylvania State Employees Retirement System Pension Fund.

In her petition to the court, Assistant U.S. Attorney Amy Philips requested that the pension be preserved and said the prosecution reserved its right to seek forfeiture of the funds for victim restitution.

Ciavarella and former county Judge Michael T. Conahan pleaded guilty in February to charges related to the kickbacks. When he resigned from the bench in March, Ciavarella asked for a lump-sum withdrawal of $232,051. He also applied for monthly payments estimated at $5,156 at the time.

It could not be determined Wednesday if Ciavarella received any money from his pension.

Neither state pension fund spokesman Robert Gentzel nor Ciavarella’s attorney, Al Flora Jr., said they could comment.

The order directed the state retirement system to maintain the funds in Ciavarella’s pension until further notice. It does not apply to Conahan, who withdrew $302,777 from his pension account when he retired in January 2008.

Whether the prosecution will attempt to seize the Jupiter, Fla., condominium the judges owned with their wives is unknown. According to the charges filed against the judges, they concealed $1.37 million of the kickbacks as payments to Pinnacle Group of Jupiter, LLC, the corporate owner of the condominium. Pinnacle, which listed Barbara Conahan as managing member of the company, purchased the condominium for $785,000 in February 2004. The property at the Jupiter Yacht Club has been for sale since last July. The price has since dropped to $895,000 from $1.1 million.

The judges, each released on $1 million unsecured bond, put up the property as assurance that they would appear in court for all proceedings.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office said Ciavarella’s plea agreement to felony charges of wire fraud and conspiracy to evade Internal Revenue Service requirements calls for him to make full or partial restitution payments based on his economic circumstances. The amount of restitution will be determined at the time of sentencing, which has yet to be scheduled.

Separate from the criminal case, the judges face class-action civil suits from juveniles who appeared before Ciavarella that seek damages.

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