Retired Pennsylvania Judge Gets 46 Months in Jail for Fraud

By Dan Nephin | March 12, 2009

A retired Pennsylvania Superior Court judge was sentenced to three years, 10 months in prison Tuesday for falsely collecting $440,000 from insurance companies after being injured in a slow-speed fender bender.

Michael Joyce was convicted in November of two counts of mail fraud and six counts of money laundering. Prosecutors said he exaggerated neck and back injuries he sustained in the August 2001 crash.

Senior U.S. District Judge Maurice Cohill Jr. told Joyce that, until he committed the crime, he was “well on his way to becoming an American success story” by serving in the military in Vietnam and rising to the bench of a state appeals court.

Joyce, 60, apologized to his family for the pain and anguish the case caused and to his fellow judges and the public.

He admitted he made mistakes and was sloppy in his letters to the insurance companies. But he steadfastly maintained his innocence and plans to appeal.

“Till the day I die, I will not believe I did anything illegal,” Joyce told Cohill.

Joyce expects to lose his pension, his law license and said he has no money.

“I have been embarrassed. I have been humiliated. I have been ridiculed and I have been disgraced,” Joyce said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Christian Trabold said the case wasn’t about mere mistakes. Joyce lied and withheld information to insurance companies over a long period of time, Trabold said.

Joyce’s Mercedes was rear-ended by another car in August 2001.

Prosecutors said the other car was going about 2-3 mph and that Joyce suffered a minor back strain that would have healed within several months.

Joyce’s attorneys said the other car was going about 11 mph and that the impact aggravated cervical fusion surgery Joyce had in the early 1990s.

Prosecutors said Joyce claimed to be debilitated, but continued piloting airplanes, scuba diving and inline skating. Joyce did not tell insurers that he was flying and had passed a required physical because it would have undermined his claim, Trabold said.

They also say Joyce tried to influence the insurance companies by making it clear he was a judge; in one 18-page letter he referred to himself as a judge 115 times, which Trabold has said was an effort to pressure the company to settle his claim.

Defense attorneys countered that sustained back pain caused Joyce to quit golfing and more rigorous forms of scuba diving.

Cohill’s sentence was within the standard range of sentencing guidelines, but more than Joyce’s lawyer had asked for.

Several members of Joyce’s family testified, including his wife, Joanne, who said she felt somewhat to blame because she pushed him to continue doing the activities he loved.

Cohill also considered more than 60 letters, mostly from attorneys, submitted on Joyce’s behalf.

Trabold unsuccessfully argued that Cohill’s sentence should reflect that Joyce abused his position as a judge to influence the insurers. Cohill said insurance companies were impressed by Joyce’s position — and processed his claims with less scrutiny then a regular person might expect — but that did not amount to an abuse of trust under sentencing factors.

Joyce was also ordered to pay $440,000 restitution to the insurance companies and forfeit his bank accounts, his suburban Erie house and his Harley-Davidson motorcycle. After his release, Joyce will be on probation for three years.

Joyce is allowed to remain free until he is told which prison to report to. His attorney, Philip Friedman, said they plan to appeal within 10 days and will seek a continuation of recognizance bail.

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