updated 7/1/2009 3:56:41 PM ET 2009-07-01T19:56:41

A lawyer at the center of a $2.5 million kickback scheme involving a pair of corrupt judges and hundreds of juvenile criminal cases pleaded guilty in federal court Wednesday.

Robert Powell, 49, pleaded guilty to concealing a felony and being an accessory after the fact for his role in paying two judges who sentenced juvenile offenders to a pair of private detention facilities he owned.

The Hazleton attorney was charged after former Luzerne County Judges Michael Conahan and Mark Ciavarella pleaded guilty in February to accepting the payoffs. The judges' admissions of wrongdoing prompted the state Supreme Court to overturn hundreds of juvenile convictions issued by Ciavarella, ruling the disgraced judge violated the constitutional rights of youth offenders who appeared in his courtroom without lawyers between 2003 and 2008.

Powell's attorney, Mark Sheppard, declined comment following Wednesday's hearing.

Among the offenders ordered into Powell's detention centers were teenagers who were locked up for months for minor offenses, including petty theft, prank notes and possession of drug paraphernalia. Many of the teens had never been in trouble before, and some were imprisoned even after probation officers recommended against it.

Prosecutors said that Powell paid $772,500 in kickbacks, disguising the payments as rental fees to the judges for docking his yacht at their Florida condominium.

Powell could spend up to 5 1/2 years in prison. No sentencing date has been set.

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