According to the Legal Intelligencer sources close to the federal investigation of the Luzerne County Courthouse leaked that federal authorities have focused on Judge Michael Toole. The article is written by Hank Grezlak And Leo Strupczewski.
March 12, 2009
The focus of the investigation appears to stem from an allegation that Toole may have received a payment from attorney Robert Powell.
The amount allegedly paid to Toole is believed to be substantially less than what Conahan and Ciavarella received, sources said. Those sources either would not, or could not, identify the reason for the alleged payment or the amount.
When asked if Toole had taken a payoff from Powell, one of Powell's attorneys, Mark B. Sheppard, formerly of Sprague & Sprague and now a partner at Montgomery McCracken Walker & Rhoads, said he could not comment.
"It would be inappropriate for our client or I to comment at this time, except to say that Mr. Powell continues to cooperate fully with any investigation," Sheppard said.
Toole did not return a call seeking comment Tuesday. A call to an attorney rumored to be representing Toole was not returned. A call to Martin C. Carlson, the U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, was not returned.
Luzerne County Common Pleas Court President Judge Chester B. Muroski said he was not aware of any investigation involving Toole.
"I have not been notified by any law enforcement authorities that any such investigation is ongoing," Muroski said.
Muroski, who said last week that he was interviewed by federal investigators concerning court administration issues, would not say if Toole's name had surfaced during questioning.
"I'm not going to discuss any portion of any discussions I've had with law enforcement authorities," he said.
Asked if he ever heard rumors that Toole allegedly accepted payoffs, Muroski responded immediately.
"Never," he said.
The article continues on about past cases involving Powell, Ciavarella, Toole and Judge Olszweski.
The only reported connection between Toole and Powell is a case from 2004 in which the newly elected judge allowed the former co-owner of PA Child Care to continue docking his yacht, "Reel Justice," at a Florida yacht club linked to Conahan and Ciavarella.
Before his election to the bench in 2003, Toole was a partner with Ciavarella at Lowery Ciavarella Rogers and Toole. Court records show that, on at least one occasion, Toole represented The Woodlands Inn & Resort — a hotel on the outskirts of Wilkes-Barre that has ties to D'Elia and that also received a pair of favorable rulings from Conahan in 2000 and 2003. There is no evidence to suggest that the plaintiffs improperly influenced either case.
The resort received another favorable ruling in 2003 from Judge Peter Paul Olszewski Jr. that blocked the construction of a county-owned juvenile detention facility near its property, because it might have scared away prospective guests. The decision essentially paved the way for the construction of PA Child Care.
That is a case federal investigators are looking into, sources have told The Legal. There is no evidence to suggest that the plaintiffs improperly influenced the outcome of the case.
During his time at the firm, Ciavarella represented Robert K. Mericle — the builder of PA Child Care.
Though he was not named in the criminal information filed by federal officials against Ciavarella and Conahan, Mericle's construction company allegedly wired $1 million of the $2.6 million in kickbacks to a company over which the judges had control, according to the criminal information filed against the judges.
A review of Toole's 2003 campaign contributions shows Mericle donated $600.
This news was first brought to light by Zen over at ZensPoliticalRants.com.