From his Florida prison cell, former Luzerne County judge Michael Conahan has initiated litigation against local attorney Jill Moran, former attorney Robert Powell, the Powell Law Group and W-Cat Inc., court records show.
Conahan’s wife, Barbara, also is named as a plaintiff.
W-Cat was set up by Powell and Moran to develop a 37-acre Wright Township development called “The Sanctuary” on Church Road that never fully materialized.
Conahan and former county judge Mark Ciavarella had guaranteed bank loans for the project along with Powell, Moran and others.
Wilkes-Barre attorney Raymond Wendolowski, representing Conahan, filed the notice of a pending lawsuit — called a writ — in the Luzerne County prothonotary’s office Tuesday.
The writ said the suit involves “fraud/civil conspiracy” but did not contain details about the exact reason for the litigation.
Wendolowski said Tuesday evening he cannot yet discuss the allegations at the heart of the lawsuit. A complaint spelling out details will be filed soon, he said.
Conahan’s litigation may be connected to another lawsuit Powell Law filed against the Conahans last June in Palm Beach County, Florida, where Barbara Conahan now resides.
In the Florida suit, Powell Law is trying to force the Conahans to pay a portion of past loans on the failed Wright Township residential development.
The Conahans have maintained they already paid more than $1 million toward the project and have alleged Barbara Conahan’s signature was forged on the loan guarantee documents.
Both former judges are serving federal prison sentences involving a juvenile detention center kickback scheme, with Conahan sentenced to 17.5 years and Ciavarella to 28.
Powell, who established Powell Law, himself served an 18-month prison sentence for failing to report the $2.8 million kickback scheme, which involved two juvenile detention centers he had co-owned, court records show.
Moran, who now claims she is the sole head of Powell Law, was never charged in the corruption probe. She resigned from the prothonotary seat in March 2009 as part of an agreement with federal prosecutors. Moran is listed as the only officer of W-Cat in state corporation records. Conahan’s writ said she now resides in Mountain Top.
The pending Florida lawsuit focuses on the repayment of $4.62 million in loans W-Cat owed to Dunmore-based First National Community Bank, which had filed an action to recoup the money in 2011.
According to Palm Beach County court records:
Powell Law repaid the debt in May 2014 but argues the Conahans should provide reimbursement for a share because they also had guaranteed the loans.
The action seeks damages over $15,000 but doesn’t spell out exactly what Powell Law wants the Conahans to pay, saying “the amount is confidential pursuant to the terms of the settlement agreement but will be disclosed pursuant to a confidentiality agreement.”
The filing, which was prepared by Attorney Keith D. Skorewicz in Tampa, Florida, also seeks attorney fees and costs.
The Conahans filed a motion to dismiss the case, which was denied in October.
They said Barbara Conahan did not sign the loan guarantee and the signature she maintains was not hers was not notarized on the guarantee document. The purported witness was a Powell Law Group employee.
Any loan guarantees should be voided, they said, arguing that Powell and Powell Law both misrepresented the viability of the project by failing to disclose warnings about the project, allegedly made to Powell by a local real estate professional.
“This was never disclosed to any of the purported ‘loan guarantors.’ To the contrary, Powell only described the real estate project in glowing, positive terms, representing the project was assured to be successful and profitable,” said their motion, filed by Miami attorney Leonard A. Sands.
The Conahans also said they never received stock or evidence of any interest in the real estate venture.
Powell Law has replied that the Conahans’ arguments were “preposterous.”
Barbara Conahan also raised counterclaims that Powell and Moran have treated the development project “as if it were exclusively their own” and should return or credit $1.2 million that Michael Conahan lent Powell Law, Powell and Moran for the W-Cat project.
The writ filed by the Conahans Tuesday also names notary Cheryl A. Mizenko as a defendant.
Mizenko is listed as the notary on the W-Cat loan documents that have been challenged by Barbara Conahan.
Work on the W-Cat development stopped several years ago, with only one single-family home and three two-unit townhomes built. The windowless shell of a fifth residential structure continues to deteriorate at the center of the development.
The ownership of Powell Law has come under question in Ohio court filings related to claims on Powell Law’s receipts from an environmental contamination suit.
Moran filed a sworn affidavit in an Ohio court last October saying she’s been the law firm’s sole managing director and president since on or before Aug. 31, 2009.
Powell’s affidavits, filed in October and again this month, said he hasn’t been a member, shareholder or director or had ownership or control over Powell Law since on or before August 2009.
However, an August 2011 filing in the same Ohio litigation, containing “stipulated facts” agreed to by both sides, says Powell and Moran are both the “sole shareholders” of Powell Law Group. A September 2011 sworn affidavit from Moran in the Ohio matter also says she is “a partner” at Powell Law.
Conahan is lodged at the Federal Correctional Center in Coleman, Florida, and Powell now lives in a Palm Beach Gardens mansion, records show.
Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.