SCRANTON – Real estate developer Robert Mericle will testify that he paid Mark Ciavarella money and gifts in addition to the “finders fee” that is the basis of part of the corruption charges against the former judge, according to a trial brief filed Thursday by federal prosecutors.
The brief, filed by U.S. Attorney Peter J. Smith, says Mericle will also admit that he paid money and gifts to other elected officials who “were in a position to help him.”
Smith is seeking to introduce Mericle’s statements as evidence of “other crimes” that can be used to help convince a jury that Ciavarella is guilty of accepting bribes and/or kickbacks from Mericle and attorney Robert Powell.
Ciavarella’s trial on corruption charges is scheduled to start Monday in federal court in Scranton. Prosecutors allege he and former Judge Michael Conahan accepted $2.8 million from Mericle and Powell in exchange for issuing rulings that paved the way for the PA Child Care and Western PA Child Care juvenile detention centers.
Ciavarella has maintained that the roughly $2.1 million that was paid to him by Mericle was a “finders fee” to thank him for recommending Mericle as the contractor to build the two juvenile centers.
But Smith said Mericle will testify he gave additional gifts and money to Ciavarella on “numerous occasions.”
“At the same time, Mericle was also giving gifts and cash to other public officials who were in a position to assist him in advancing his corporate interests,” the trial brief says.
Under federal law, prosecutors are not permitted to present evidence of uncharged crimes at a defendant’s trial unless they can show a valid reason for doing so. Smith contends the information about other payments made by Mericle shows a pattern of activity that is “intrinsic to the crimes for which (he) is charged” and to show that Ciavarella had a “consciousness of guilt.”
Mericle pleaded guilty in September 2009 to withholding information on a crime for his role in corruption case. He admitted helping the judges disguise the source of the money that he and Powell paid.
Since then, Mericle has been implicated in two other bribery cases involving former Jenkins Township Supervisor Russ Arnone and retired state Sen. Raphael Musto.
Smith’s trial brief also provides additional information regarding Ciavarella and Conahan’s alleged extortion of Powell.
In prior court filings prosecutors have stated Powell was coerced into paying roughly $770,000 out of fear Ciavarella, the county’s juvenile judge, would stop sending juveniles to his detention facilities.
The trial brief states that Powell was also made to believe that Conahan and Ciavarella would sabotage the business further by telling officials in other counties that he was providing “substandard” treatment to juveniles.
“Given their respective positions as president judge and head of juvenile court, one word from Conahan or Ciavarella would be sufficient to bankrupt Powell,” Smith says.