The Kids for Cash trial resumed this week with former Pennsylvania Judge mark Ciavarella's attorneys trying to undermine the credibility of the prosecution witnesses and the accused vehemently claiming that though he has committed tax fraud, he never extorted money from others or took bribe in return for sending juveniles to a private detention center.
On Monday, the defense witness Gina Carrelli, ex-fiance of former Hazleton Mayor Michael Marsicano who once piloted a 12-seat plane Robert Powell often flew, testified that she saw Powell hand two envelopes stuffed with cash to an elected official after both of them got off the plane.
I didn't say anything because it wasn't my place to say anything, she said.
She refused to identify the official outside court as she had agreed to testify on condition that she would not name the elected official.
Carelli also testified that Powell had also once confided in her that Powell and his wife even had a dispute with co-defendant Michael Conahan and his wife over which condo to buy - a penthouse unit favored by the Powells or a condo with more square footage that the Conahans wanted.
Powell's attorney, Joseph D'Andrea, in response said there's no truth to Carrelli's claims. This is clearly the defense showing how desperate they are in the waning hours of this case to discredit Bob, D'Andrea said.
However, Carelli said what she testified were not claims. I don't 'claim' anything, she said. They are facts I'm saying, not claims.
Earlier on Monday, the prosecutors rested their case, calling as their last witness - an IRS agent - who testified that Ciavarella and Conahan failed to pay nearly $500,000 in taxes on illicit income between 2003 and 2006.
Jerome Matlowski, the treasurer for Ciavarella's retention campaign, also testified that Ciavarella had committed tax fraud by pocketing donations collected at a golf tournament fundraiser made to his 2005 retention campaign.
On Monday, the defense lawyers also made a motion to dismiss several bribery and fraud counts related to the huge sums paid to the judges by Robert Mericle, the builder of PA Child Care, but the motion was rejected.
On Tuesday, Ciavarella took the witness stand and testified that he was burdened by heavy debts and the $330,000 he received from Mericle was like manna from heaven.
The former Luzerne County judge testified that his family spent a lot of money and they were living beyond our means despite him earning $158,000 annually.
Ciavarella also testified that in April and July of 2003, he received two additional payments of $75,000 from Conahan, who had shared in the manna from Mericle.
He said I had kids in college and I need it more than he did, Ciavarella testified.
Ciavarella also testified that he needed more money and had borrowed $175,000 from another individual in 2009. He didn't identify the individual.
The former judge also acknowledged that he had committed tax fraud by not disclosing his income to the IRS but said he never tried to extort any money from Powell.
Last week, Powell testified that Ciavarella tried to extort an additional $40,000 from him in 2008 even though both men were aware of a looming federal investigation.
Ciavarella said the money he received from Mericle was a finder's fee because he had introduced him to Robert Powell.
Ciavarella also said that the money he pocketed from the fundraiser was to cover part of a $184,000 personal loan he made to his campaign committee when he first ran for the Luzerne County bench a decade earlier.
He also said he knew nothing about the three FedEx boxes stuffed with cash that Powell's law partner Jill Moran had delivered to Conahan
Both Ciavarella and Conahan have been charged with receiving more than $2.6 million from Powell and Mericle in bribes and kickbacks in return for shutting down the county-run juvenile detention center and handing over harsh sentences to teenagers accused of misdemeanor so that they can be sent to the for-profit detention center owned by Powell and built by Mericle.