2009-07-09 / Police Reports

Disgraced Pa. Judge Denies He Jailed Kids For Cash

ALLENTOWN, Pa. (AP) - A former juvenile court judge charged with taking kickbacks from the owner and builder of a pair of youth detention centers said Thursday that he had no financial incentive for keeping the jails stocked with young offenders.

Former Luzerne County Judges Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan pleaded guilty earlier this year to accepting $2.6 million in kickbacks from PA Child Care owner Robert Powell and a builder. In exchange for the money, the judges shut down the county-run detention center and ordered that wayward youths be sent to Powell's jails.

The judges await sentencing on charges of honest services fraud and tax fraud. Their plea agreements call for more than seven years in prison.

Ciavarella, who presided over juvenile court for 12 years, said the detention centers had a guaranteed annual contract with Luzerne County that paid $3 million per year, regardless of how many children he sent to PA Child Care outside Wilkes-Barre or to its sister facility in western Pennsylvania.

"It doesn't matter if I send one or 300 kids to that facility,'' he said.

Government prosecutors have insisted there was a quid pro quo. U.S. District Judge Edwin Kosik, who will determine the judges' prison terms after a lengthy pre-sentence investigation, ultimately will settle the matter.

Ciavarella spoke to reporters Thursday about the so-called "kids for cash'' scandal after testifying at a hearing in Allentown in an unrelated case.

Prosecutors have described a scheme in which Conahan, Luzerne County's former president judge, shut down the county owned juvenile detention center in 2002 and signed an agreement with PA Child Care to send youth offenders to its new facility.

Ciavarella sent youths to the detention center and to its sister facility while he was taking payments, prosecutors said.

Powell pleaded guilty Wednesday to paying kickbacks to the judges. The builder, Robert Mericle, has not been charged and denies wrongdoing.

Pennsylvania's highest court overturned 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.

Ciavarella testified Thursday at a hearing to sort out allegations of case fixing in a $3.5 million defamation verdict he returned against The Citizens' Voice newspaper of Wilkes-Barre in 2006.

The Supreme Court ordered the hearing after Ciavarella and Conahan pleaded guilty in the juvenile justice scandal. The newspaper's attorneys say Conahan and Ciavarella conspired with reputed mob boss William D'Elia to fix the defamation lawsuit filed by one of D'Elia's friends.

Ciavarella testified that neither Conahan nor D'Elia ever spoke to him about the case.

Return to top