In his second day of testimony, Robert Powell told jurors that former Luzerne County Judge Mark Ciavarella asked for an additional $40,000 in the midst of a grand jury probe that ultimately resulted in a racketeering indictment.
Powell, a former lawyer who also is the developer and co-owner of the PA Child Care detention facility, contends that Ciavarella and a second county judge extorted more than $725,000 from him after they shut down the county-run detention center and arranged for juveniles to be sent to Powell's new lockup outside the city of Wilkes-Barre.
"He said, 'I think if you give me money now it gives credence to our story,'" Powell testified. "I said: 'You don't get it, this is over. I don't care who you call, I don't care what you do,' and I left."
Powell later agreed to wear a wire for federal law enforcement officials. Jurors heard tape recordings of a 2008 meeting Powell had with the judges in which they discussed what they would say to federal agents investigating the payments.
At one point during the conversation, a strange van pulled up across the street, and the judges - now concerned the room had been bugged - put their fingers to their lips and started whispering.
"It's utter panic," Powell testified.
Ciavarella has pleaded innocent to charges that he and Conahan extorted Powell and took more than $2 million in kickbacks from the builder of PA Child Care and a sister facility in western Pennsylvania. Conahan has pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy and awaits sentencing.
Under cross-examination, Powell acknowledged that PA Child Care had a 20-year agreement with Luzerne County that guaranteed the company would be paid $2.9 million annually, regardless of how many juveniles it housed. Ciavarella has vigorously denied that there was a relationship between the payments he received and the children he sent to PA Child Care.
"You were guaranteed that payment whether Mark Ciavarella sent one kid there, 100 kids there or no kids there?" defense attorney Al Flora asked Powell. Powell agreed.
Flora also questioned why Powell failed to get Ciavarella to incriminate himself while wearing the wire.
"I knew they got the cash. They knew they got the cash. Why would I ask that?" Powell said.
Though prosecutors say Powell was extorted, the former attorney - who has pleaded guilty to concealing a felony and being an accessory after the fact - also benefited greatly from his relationship with the judges. The county could have built its own facility for about $7 million. Instead, it agreed to pay Powell's company $58 million over 20 years to lease PA Child Care. The lease was eventually canceled as exorbitant.
After he left the witness stand, Powell, who has lost his law license and faces more than five years in prison, told reporters that he regretted his role in the scheme.
"I should have said no," he said.