A judge has been sentenced in "Kids for Cash" case. Image: bloomsberries/Flickr/CC BY-ND

A judge in Pennsylvania has been sentenced to nearly 30 years in prison for his role in a massive bribery scandal. The case, which came to be called the “Kids for Cash” scandal, has also prompted the state Supreme Court to throw out thousands of juvenile convictions.

Judge receives 28 years

The sentence came down Thursday for former Luzerne County Judge Mark Ciavarella Jr., 61, who was convicted of taking $1 million in bribes from contractors in the building of two juvenile detention centers. Ciavarella was also accused of sentencing thousands of young people to fill the facilities, often violating their civil rights in doing so. Ciavarella was sentenced to 28 years in federal prison.

Conflicted speech

In a confused pre-sentencing speech that went on for about 15 minutes, Ciavarella first apologized for his actions, saying “I blame no one but myself for what happened.” But in a surprising shift of gears he proceeded to attack the government’s case as well as the conclusions of the state Supreme Court. “I did everything I was obligated to do protect these children’s rights,” he said.

A ‘reasonable’ sentence

Al Flora, Ciavarella’s attorney, had asked the court for a reasonable sentence in the light of his earlier conviction this year of racketeering. The intention of the request was to posit that Ciavarella had already been punished sufficiently. The judge in the case disagreed.

Ciavarella made no reaction when the sentence was announced. But from the gallery, somebody shouted “Woo hoo!”

4,000 convictions overturned

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court also threw out about 4,ooo juvenile convictions that Ciavarella handed down between 2003 and 2008. The court ruled that Ciavarella violated the civil rights of the defendants, including denying them legal counsel.

Extortion charges

Ciavarella and a second judge, Michael Conahan, were accused by federal prosecutors of accepting more than $2 million in bribes from the builders of the PA Child Care and Western PA Child Care detention facilities. Furthermore, they were charged with extorting hundred of thousands from Robert Powell, the co-owner of the facility.

Harsh demeanor in court

Known for his rough manner in court, Ciavarella populated the facilities with juveniles who were often first-time offenders or those convicted of petty crimes. Many of the detainees were as young as 10.

“Frankly, I don’t think Ciavarella or Conahan themselves really personally cared where the juveniles went, as long as they could use their power to place the juveniles as leverage,” U.S. Attorney Peter Smith said Thursday.

Earlier conviction

After his arrest, Ciavarella continued to insist that he was not guilty of any wrongdoing. An earlier trial in February convicted him on twelve counts, including racketeering and conspiracy. He was acquitted of extortion and 26 other counts. Ciavarella plans to appeal both his conviction and sentences.

Michael Conahan, the other judge accused in the case, has pleaded guilty and is awaiting sentence.

Parents react

Sandy Fonzo, whose 23-year-old son killed himself last year after repeated visits to Ciavarella’s courtroom, said:

“This judge was wrong, what he did to my son, what he did to all of our children, what he did to our families, and today proves that.”


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