A lawyer who was a key figure in the “kids-for-cash” scandal in Luzerne County is prepared to share a fortune estimated at $200 million in legal fees his law firm is owed for acting for clients involved in an environmental lawsuit, according to a racketeering lawsuit filed by the lawyer, Robert Powell’s former business partner.
Powell’s former business partner Gregory Zappala claims Powell’s awaiting windfall is the product of Luzerne County corruption and is asking a federal judge to freeze any payments to the convicted felon.
Zappala is now seeking an injunction to stop Powell, his law firm and former law partner Jill Moran from getting paid. A federal judge on Wednesday set a hearing date for Aug. 22 in federal court in Pittsburgh.
In his motion for an injunction, Zappala claims Powell used money from their joint investment into two for-profit juvenile detention centers at the heart of the kids-for-cash case to fund the environmental suit. He also claims Powell promised a no-show job with the detention center company to a former Luzerne County Court administrator to have the environmental case assigned to a judge who, Zappala claims, accepted favors from Powell, including a stay at a Florida condominium.
The former judge, Peter Paul Olszewski Jr., denied five years ago that Powell played any role in his 2005 trip to the condominium, which was later found to be connected to illegal payments in the kids-for-cash case.
The Powell Law Group represented a group of Avoca residents who were plaintiffs in a national class-action lawsuit against Anadarko Petroleum Corp. regarding environmental contamination from toxic waste that injured thousands. Its subsidiary, Kerr-McGee Corp., once had a wood-treatment plant in Avoca that used creosote, a distilled coal tar. In April, Anadarko agreed to pay $5.15 billion to settle the claims in the case nationwide.
For its work, the Powell Law Group is owed somewhere between $150 million and $200 million in attorneys fees, or 40 percent of the local share of the settlement, according to Zappala’s lawsuit filed against Powell, his law firm, Moran and others.