Ex-Pennsylvania Judge Found Guilty of Insurance Fraud

By | November 21, 2008

A retired Pennsylvania appellate judge was convicted of mail fraud and money laundering after prosecutors said he lied about neck and back injuries in a fender bender to collect $440,000 from two insurance companies.

Former Superior Court Judge Michael Joyce will be sentenced March 10 on two counts of mail fraud and six counts of money laundering.

“Michael Joyce made multiple false representations of debilitating injury following a 2001 automobile accident when the evidence showed he was engaging a variety of physical activities, including scuba diving, roller blading and piloting airplanes,” U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan said. “The jury’s finding of guilt demonstrates that no person, even a judge, is above the law.”

Joyce could be ordered to forfeit the money he collected _ or the items he purchased with it. The charges carry a maximum of decades in prison, but a shorter sentence is likely for someone such as Joyce, who has no criminal record, and perhaps even probation or house arrest, his attorneys said.

Federal prosecutors said Joyce lied about his injuries after another car rear-ended his Mercedes at 2-3 mph in August 2001. Joyce’s attorneys contend the accident was more serious and occurred at about 11 mph and aggravated cervical fusion surgery he had in the early 1990s.

Joyce’s attorneys still say that debilitating pain has caused him to give up golfing and more rigorous forms of scuba diving ever since mid-2002. Saying Joyce was “devastated” by the verdict, the defense attorneys, Philip Friedman and Robert Leight, promised to appeal.

“You never know what juries are going to do,” Friedman said. “We have to respect (the verdict) but we certainly don’t agree with it.”

In a separate matter, the conviction could potentially cause Joyce to forfeit the state pension from his $165,000-a-year judgeship. He opted not to run for a second term on the appellate court after he was indicted in August 2007.

Friedman doesn’t think the conviction is relevant because it wasn’t directly related to his duties as judge.

But Assistant U.S. Attorney Christian Trabold said Joyce used his position as judge to influence the insurance settlements, in particular $390,000 Joyce received from his policy with Erie Insurance Co. Trabold said Joyce referred to himself as “Judge Joyce” 115 times in an 18-page letter he submitted to the company detailing his injuries, pain and how they affected his active lifestyle.

The other $50,000 came from the other driver’s policy with State Farm. Minutes after the crash, Joyce identified himself to the other motorist as a Superior Court judge, Trabold said.

Joyce badly needed money to repay money he borrowed from a former girlfriend and other debts before he bought a Harley Davidson motorcycle and made down payments on a $360,000 house and a small airplane, they said.

Prosecutors want Joyce to forfeit more than $318,000 he deposited into an Ameritrade account and used to pay off a line of credit; more than $114,000 put toward the house; a $27,000 down payment on the plane; and the $18,700 he spent on the motorcycle, among other purchases cited in the money laundering counts.

Whether Joyce can be forced to repay money for the plane or motorcycle, which have already been sold, remains to be decided, his attorneys said. Senior U.S. District Judge Maurice Cohill Jr. ordered Joyce not to liquidate any more of the assets until he rules on the forfeiture request when Joyce is sentenced.

The judge’s order puts a lien on Joyce’s house, Leight said. And Friedman said it’s possible the government will try to recoup money Joyce made from selling the motorcycle and airplane.

“They can try to. That’s going to be another battle,” Friedman said.

It’s possible the house might have to be sold to satisfy the lien on it, “but it’s too early to think about that now,” Friedman said.

The six-man, six-woman jury declined to comment on their verdict after the four-week trial. Joyce and his family left the courtroom without comment.

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