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IRS Agents Testify In Pa. Judge Corruption Case

SCRANTON, Pa. (AP) - Federal prosecutors rested their case Monday in the corruption trial of a former northeastern Pennsylvania judge charged with taking part in a $2.8 million kickback scheme involving privately owned juvenile detention centers.

The government called as its last witness an IRS agent who testified that ex-Luzerne County Judge Mark Ciavarella and a second jurist failed to pay nearly $500,000 in taxes on illicit income between 2003 and 2006.

"I found a significant amount of unreported income," IRS agent Ray Eppley testified.

Prosecutors allege that Ciavarella and former Judge Michael Conahan took more than $2 million in illegal kickbacks from the builder of the PA Child Care and Western PA Child Care detention centers, and extorted more than $725,000 from the co-owner of the juvenile facilities. The judges allegedly disguised the extortion payments as rental income from a Florida condo owned by their wives.

The state Supreme Court threw out thousands of juvenile convictions issued by Ciavarella, saying he disregarded the constitutional rights of the defendants. He has denied breaking any laws. Conahan pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy and awaits sentencing.

After prosecutors rested, the defense argued unsuccessfully for the dismissal of bribery and fraud counts related to the huge sums paid to the judges by builder Robert Mericle. Defense lawyer Al Flora pointed out that Mericle considered the payments to be "finder's fees," which are common practice in the commercial real estate business. Flora also argued that Ciavarella merely introduced Mericle to Robert Powell, the developer and co-owner of the juvenile centers, and took no "official action" to ensure that Mericle got the contract to build them.

"They have to show a quid pro quo between the person making the payments and the person receiving the money," Flora said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney William Houser responded that while Mericle may not have considered the money to be a bribe or a kickback, the judges did. U.S. Judge Edwin Kosik ruled against the defense.

The defense planned to begin its case Monday afternoon and expected to wrap up on Tuesday. Ciavarella is expected to testify in his own defense.