The LuLac Edition #1468, Feb. 10th, 2011
PHOTO INDEX: JUDGES CIAVRELLA AND CONAHAN AND ATTORNEY ROBERT POWELL. (TOP PHOTO). (BOTTOM PHOTO): SILVIO, TONY AND PAULIE.
Powell said he was served with a subpoena right before Thanksgiving 2007. Right around that time, in a scene out of a bad mobster movie, Powell was told to park behind Crestwood High School on Route 309. He said a large older car pulled up with Judge Conahan driving and Ciavarella in the front passenger seat. They instructed Powell to leave his cell phone behind and the two took the Attorney for a 90 minute ride around Mountaintop trying to come up with a story. Powell was told that Robert Mericle had testified before the grand jury and that "he lied through his teeth," telling the jury all the payments to the judges had been concocted and arranged by Powell.
"I was stunned," Powell said.
"They said, 'this is our story'" Powell said, and then told him that they could easily paint Mericle as a liar, and that Prothonotary Jill Moran, an attorney in Powell's firm who had delivered cash to the judges in FedEx boxes, didn't know what was going on. Powell testified that the judges told him the plan was to discredit Mericle and Moran.
Throughout this testimony former Judge Ciavarella glared at Powell with an icy stare.
Powell said that even after the investigation began, Ciavarella demanded another $40,000 from him. Powell said “These guys just didn’t get it”.
Unlike Robert Mericle, Robert Powell did wear a wire. A recording of that conversation was played in court and the jurors got a transcript. On the tape,
Conahan can be heard whispering instructions on what each is to tell investigators, a moment Powell referred to as "Sheer panic" in his testimony. "We had to stick to our stories or it was scrambled eggs," he said. Conahan began whispering instructions of a cover story when a white van was spotted nearby them. An FBI agent later testified that it was Ciavarella who “made” the van and identified it as a spying device. Powell is expressing concern about his inability to contact Jill Moran, the Luzerne County Prothonotary at the time and a partner in Powell's law firm. Powell said the judges were worried about possible testimony by Moran to a federal grand jury. Powell has said that she delivered cash from him to Ciavarella and Conahan in Fed Ex boxes, and that
Moran saw him stuffing the cash in a box once.
On the tape, Powell opines "I think Jill is off the reservation." saying she has not picked up her paycheck, only uses Blackberry to communicate with him and that she cleaned out her office.
Conahan is heard on the tape referring to Jill Moran’s fashion attire. “The problem with Jill is you just don't know what she is going to be wearing." Powell said the judges were absolutely terrified about bug and wires demanding that he keep his cell phone out of their meeting location since they feared being tracked by a GPS device.
Ciavarella's Attorney Al Flora began his cross examination by asking Powell how the two judges "were the most powerful men in Luzerne County."
"More powerful than the District Attorney, the chief law enforcement officer of Luzerne County?" Flora asked. "More powerful then the deputy (state) attorney generals" residing in the area?
Powell said "from my perspective, yes," then added that even the attorney general office had to have cases heard before the county judge.
When Flora questioned if Ciavarella and Conahan were more powerful than the U.S. Attorney," Powell said "No. He's the only guy who scared them."
Flora asked if the Judges were able to control all those people and Powell said "No, I didn't say that they controlled them I said they were more powerful."
Flora then outlined decisions made by the Luzerne County Commissioners regarding PA Child Care. He asked if Ciavarella was involved in any of them. Powell said no.
Flora, staring intently at Powell asked why they couldn't get a new juvenile facility built, how could they be so powerful, Powell replied "they didn't have to, they got me to build it."
After his testimony, Powell held an impromptu news conference on the steps of the courthouse apologizing to the people of Luzerne County, his family, clients and friends. Said this chapter in his life was over and he was going to start a new one putting this series of events behind him.
The defense meanwhile was shut down on a number of occasions by Judge Edwin Kosik. When defense attorneys were grilling Powell about items on American Express bills that numbered into the $25,000 range, Kosik asked him if he thought rich people couldn’t be extorted. Kosik was just wondering about this line of questioning but when Flora brought up a payment by the Juvenile Center to another business of Powell, the Judge found there was no relevance to that line of questioning.
Flora asked Powell why he still stayed at the Florida condo if he knew there was improper stuff going on. Powell said that it would be foolhardy not to. Powell explained that was part of the ruse.
Former Hazleton Housing Authority member and County Prothonotary Jill Moran took the stand. Moran outlined her associations with Powell and Conahan telling the court she sought out a job with Conahan to be a law clerk but he instead referred her to Powell. After telling the court about her business associations with Powell, she described carry FED Ex boxes filled with cash to Michael Conahan. She recounted she made money drops to the Judge because Powell was no longer that much of a friend to Conahan. The boxes were stuffed with hundreds, fifties and twenties. Moran was set to testify about a third box of dough when Judge Kosik adjourned for the day.
This trial with all of its twists, turns, machinations, gyrations and plot twists resumes tomorrow morning in federal court in Scranton.
LuLac is covering the trial for WYLN TV 35.