I just picked up a new book, “The Racketeer,” by John Grisham.
No, it’s not about former Luzerne County judges, Michael Conahan or Mark Ciavarella. But they came to mind because a day later, pictured on the front pages of both of our local newspapers was the former judges’ sugar daddy, Robert Mericle. He was smiling on The Times Leader’s front page. On the Citizens’ Voice’s, he looked like he was about to stick out his tongue.
Anyway, Grisham begins his novel with a definition: ”rack-e-teer. one who obtains money illegally as by fraud, extortion, etc.”
Okay, we know that surely describes Conahan and Ciavarella, and they’re now in prison for it. But what about the person who offered up that money? That would be local tycoon Mericle.
Frankly, I never quite understood how such a key player in the infamous “Kids for Cash” corruption ring was simply charged with failure to report a crime. Had Mericle not dangled an initial $1 million, with more to come, in front of two very eager, money-hungry judges, would KFC ever have happened? Mericle said he simply paid the judge/real estate broker a finder’s fee. For what? Does anyone really believe that Mericle needed Ciavarella’s help getting an intro to Robert Powell, a lawyer who decided to build a juvenile detention center and had the good fortune to know a county judge who single-handedly closed the county-owned one?
And, remember, that in addition to Conahan, who got the ball rolling, Mericle also had quite a bit of help along the way from former majority county commissioners, Greg Skrepenak and Todd Vonderheid, who gave the house that Mericle built an unprecedented 20-year, $58 million lease.
Hopefully, they at least got a bottle of expensive wine for their contributions. Mericle’s not shy about taking care of those who take care of him. Ask former state Sen. Ray Musto, who is also ending his long career in disgrace for playing nice with Mericle.
Now, poor Mr. Mericle is $17.75 million poorer because that’s the amount he voluntarily settled on to make his legal woes go away. The deal was outlined in Tuesday’s papers.
After some lawyers, dare we say ambulance chasers, put out the call, 2,000 juvies and their parents signed up for a piece of the luscious Mericle pie. For their combined efforts, which one said involved 3,500 hours or work, the lawyers will divvy up $3.6 million. That’s a lot of hours. Imagine if Attorney Angela Stevens was involved here. Remember her? She of the creative double billings.
What’s interesting is that 106 juveniles will collect a minimum $500 reward for not being victims at all. They weren’t even detained at the Kids for Cash prison. They were put on probation. Some of the others were sent elsewhere, yet they’ll get $1,000, The TL reported.
Why are these “kids,” who apparently didn’t end up in court because they sold too many Girl Scout cookies, being rewarded for bad behavior at all? And how is this even “Kids for Cash?” Because the lawyers said so and saw fit to budget $820,000 for the delinquents’ pain and suffering?
This deal appears to be a win-win all the way around, except for Attorney Bernard Schneider, who represents the owner of the two juvenile detention facilities Mericle built.
Schneider said the settlement will make it difficult for him to defend his own clients against any lawsuits the juveniles and their parents may ultimately file.
Well, that’s too bad, Bernie. Money talks. Ask Robert Mericle how the game’s played.
- Betty Roccograndi