Pa. Judge Faces Fraud Indictment Relating to Car Accident Claim

August 17, 2007

A Pennsylvania Superior Court judge collected insurance money after claiming a car accident made him unable to exercise or play golf, but then played golf, went inline skating and received his pilot’s license, federal prosecutors said Wednesday.

Judge Michael Thomas Joyce, 58, of Erie, was charged with mail fraud and money laundering in connection with $440,000 he received after his car was rear-ended in Millcreek Township in 2001.

The accident occurred at about 5 mph and no police or medical personnel were called to the scene, prosecutors said.

“The bodily injury he says he sustained we believe was fraudulent,” U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan said.

Joyce’s office referred calls to his attorney, David Ridge. A person answering the phone at Ridge’s office said Ridge was unavailable Wednesday afternoon.

Joyce claimed the accident adversely affected his personal and professional life, making him unable to play golf, scuba dive or exercise. He also claimed the injuries prevented him from pursuing higher judicial office, the indictment stated.

The judge complained of constant neck and back pain, headaches, difficulty sleeping, anxiety and short-term memory loss, according to the indictment. He claimed he was in such pain from May to July 2002 that he could not play a round of golf or hold a cup of coffee in his right hand, the indictment said.

During the same period Joyce made these claims, he played several rounds of golf in Jamaica, Florida, New York and Pennsylvania, went scuba diving in Jamaica and renewed his diving instructor’s certificate, prosecutors said.

Joyce also went inline skating on several occasions, exercised at a fitness club and, between April and October 2002, applied for and received a private pilot’s license, and flew an airplane on 50 occasions, prosecutors said.

The judge also falsely asserted in support of his claims that he received the Republican endorsement and nomination for a seat on the state Supreme Court in the 2001 election.

Prosecutors said Joyce sought damages from his insurer, Erie Insurance Group, and State Farm Insurance, which insured the other driver. The initial claim submitted to Erie Insurance was on Joyce’s official judicial letterhead, Buchanan said.

Joyce got $50,000 from State Farm Insurance to settle a bodily injury claim and $390,000 from Erie Insurance to settle an underinsured motorist provision of his coverage, the indictment said.

After getting money from Erie Insurance, Joyce opened an individual brokerage account, through which he bought property in Millcreek Township, a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, and interest in a Cessna airplane, prosecutors said.

A native of Pittsburgh, Joyce was awarded the Bronze Star for his service in Vietnam. He was elected to the state Superior Court in 1997 after serving as an Erie County judge.

Joyce, a Republican, faces a retention vote this year when voters will decide whether he should keep his seat for another 10 years. As a Superior Court judge, Joyce will be paid $165,342 this year.

Joyce is not legally required to step down because of the indictment since the charges do not directly involve his court-related duties, said Joseph A. Massa Jr., chief counsel for the state Judicial Conduct Board, which investigates and prosecutes charges of misconduct by judges.


Associated Press Writer Peter Jackson in Harrisburg contributed to this report.

Topics Legislation Auto Fraud Pennsylvania

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