Judges Lock-Up Kids For Cash
‘Kids for cash’ judge sentenced to 28 years for racketeering scheme
A former juvenile court judge in Pennsylvania was sentenced to 28 years in prison on Thursday for his part in an alleged “kids for cash” scam considered one of the worst judicial scandals in US history.
Mark Ciavarella Jr., 61, a former judge in Luzerne County, was also ordered to pay $1.17 million in restitution.
Mr. Ciavarella was convicted in federal court in Scranton, Pa., in February on charges that he and a second judge, Michael Conahan, ran the local court system as a racketeering enterprise.
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The federal indictment says the two judges accepted $2.8 million in kickbacks from the owner and builder of two privately-run juvenile detention facilities. In exchange, the judges agreed to close down the county’s own juvenile detention center, which would have competed with the new, privately-run facilities. In addition they guaranteed that juvenile offenders from their court would be directed to the privately-run facilities.
Mr. Conahan, pleaded guilty last year to a single count of racketeering and is awaiting sentencing.
In comments to the court, Ciavarella apologized to the community and to the children whose cases he had adjudicated. “I blame no one but myself for what happened,” he said, according to the Associated Press.
But the former judge rejected claims that he engaged in a “kids for cash” racketeering scheme.
He said prosecutors used the claim to sabotage his reputation prior to his trial. “Those three words made me the personification of evil,” he told the court, according to the Associated Press. “They made me toxic and caused a public uproar the likes of which this community has never seen.”
Ciavarella had a reputation as a no-nonsense jurist who would not hesitate to sentence young, first-time offenders to juvenile detention. He also gained a reputation as a judge prone to cut constitutional corners.
An investigation revealed that half of the children who appeared in his courtroom were not represented by a lawyer and were never advised of their right to counsel. Of those unrepresented children, up to 60 percent were ordered by Ciavarella to serve time at a detention facility.
What was not known, prior to the federal investigation, was that Ciavarella and Conahan were receiving secret payments from the private detention centers. The centers stood to profit from the higher number of juveniles they were housing.
Amid mounting questions about Ciavarella’s actions as a juvenile judge, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in 2009 directed that all adjudications involving children appearing before Ciavarella from 2003 to 2008 be vacated and their records expunged. The directive is estimated to involve 4,000 cases.
One of those cases involved 16-year-old A.A., who was arrested for gesturing with her middle finger at a police officer who had been called during a custody dispute involving her parents and her sister.
Read more: http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Justice/2011/0811/Kids-for-cash-judge-sentenced-to-28-years-for-racketeering-scheme
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