State questions expenses at 2 private juvenile centers

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College basketball tickets, fishing trips and a $3,500 suit are among $1.26 million in expenses being questioned in a draft state audit of a Butler County juvenile detention center owned by Pittsburgh businessman Greg Zappala.

The state Department of Welfare says those expenses and others were not allowable costs at the facility, which receives much of its funding from state and county governments. The results were in the draft of an audit report of the Western Pennsylvania Child Care center by the state Department of Welfare sent to officials in affected counties.

The facility and a similar one in northwest Pennsylvania also owned by Mr. Zappala are at the center of a criminal case against two former Luzerne County judges who are scheduled to plead guilty tomorrow in a fraud case. Former judges Mark A. Ciavarella Jr. and Michael T. Conahan allegedly received $2.6 million in payments to facilitate the development of the Butler facility and Pennsylvania Child Care in Pittston Township, Luzerne County. Federal prosecutors allege they steered children to the center against probation officers' recommendations and without legal representation.

No charges have been filed against Mr. Zappala or his former partner, Attorney Robert J. Powell. Mr. Zappala is an investment banker and the brother of Allegheny County District Attorney Steven Zappala.

The state Supreme Court, meanwhile, is reviewing juvenile cases adjudicated in Luzerne County to see if any should be overturned.

Now the state Department of Welfare is looking into use of funds at both the Luzerne and Butler facilities.

More details in tomorrow's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.


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