crimesider

Ex-judge convicted of jailing kids for cash

Ex-judge who jailed kids for kickbacks convicted
Mark Ciavarella
AP Photo, file

(CBS/AP) SCRANTON, Pa. - Former juvenile court judge Mark Ciavarella was convicted in an alleged "kids for cash" scheme that accused him and another judge of sending youth offenders to for-profit detention centers in exchange for millions of dollars in illicit payments from the builder and owner of the lockups.

The 61-year-old Luzerne County ex-judge left the bench in disgrace two years ago after prosecutors charged him with engineering one of the biggest courtroom frauds in U.S. history by using juvenile delinquents as pawns in a plot to get rich.

Federal prosecutors accused Ciavarella and a second judge, Michael Conahan, of taking more than $2 million in bribes from the builder of the PA Child Care and Western PA Child Care detention centers and extorting hundreds of thousands of dollars from the facilities' co-owner. Ciavarella insisted the payments were legal and denied that he incarcerated youths for money.

A federal jury in Scranton returned a mixed verdict, convicting Ciavarella of 12 counts, including racketeering and conspiracy, and acquitting him of 27 counts, including extortion. The guilty verdicts related to nearly $1 million that the builder paid to the judges.

Ciavarella was expressionless as the verdicts were being read.

Prosecutors alleged Ciavarella and Conahan plotted to shut down the dilapidated county-run juvenile detention center in 2002 and arrange for the construction of the PA Child Care facility outside Wilkes-Barre.

Ciavarella, who presided over juvenile court, sent youths to PA Child Care and later to its sister facility in western Pennsylvania while he was taking payments from Robert Mericle, a prominent builder and close friend of Ciavarella, and Robert Powell, a high-powered attorney who co-owned the youth lockups.

The judge, known for his harsh and autocratic courtroom demeanor, filled the beds of the private lockups with children as young as 10. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court dismissed thousands of juvenile convictions issued by Ciavarella, saying he ran his courtroom with "complete disregard for the constitutional rights of the juveniles," including the right to legal counsel and the right to intelligently enter a plea.

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