Former Luzerne County Juvenile Court Judge Mark A. Ciavarella Jr. was sentence to 28 years in prison for his part in the “Kids For Cash” kickback scandal. A second juvenile judge, Michael Conahan, pleaded guilty last year and awaits sentencing. The two were accused of taking more than $2.8 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.
According to accusations, Ciavarella “filled the beds of the private lockups with children as young as 10, many of them first-time offenders convicted of petty theft and other minor crimes.”
“The defendant argues he didn’t sell juveniles retail. We agree with that. He was selling them wholesale,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Gordon Zubrod, maintaining that the jury found Ciavarella guilty of a racketeering conspiracy for being part of a scheme to extract cash from the construction and operation of the two for-profit centers.
As a result of the corruption case, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court tossed about 4,000 convictions issued by Ciavarella between 2003 and 2008, saying he violated the constitutional rights of the juveniles, including the right to legal counsel and the right to intelligently enter a plea.
Fellow former Judges Conahan and Michael T. Toole both pleaded guilty to criminal charges last year as investigators untangled a web of corruption. A number of other public officials were caught in the probe as well, including the county's court administrator, the clerk of courts and a member of the juvenile probation services office.
While The Legal had previously reported that sources had tied Conahan to mobsters, following Ciavarella's trial Zubrod said that the investigation into Conahan and Ciavarella's activities "sprang from" a probe of reputed mobster William "Billy" D'Elia.
The case of the juvenile court judge accused of trading kids for cash has garnered national and international press coverage, spawned an ongoing corruption probe that has led to more than 30 arrests and spurred the state Supreme Court to dismiss thousands of Ciavarella's court rulings.
COMMENTARY by Eddie Griffin
Some people may see this case as an aberration and isolated, one-of-a-kind, corruption case that could only happen in Pennsylvania. What people overlook is who is the real beneficiary in the scheme, the ones receiving the bribes and kickbacks, or the one paying them?
The Prison Industrial Complex feeds on incarceration. The more prison beds occupied the more profits for the corporations that build and manage facilities.
Where paying bribes and kickbacks to juvenile justice officials may not be the normal way of doing business, they are instrumental in “get tough” policies, “zero tolerance” and longer prison sentence advocacy.
The irony in the above case is that it began with an investigation into mobster activities. There is an ominous sense of danger for those involved. Once graft is accepted from mobsters, the next bribe cannot be rejected. And so, the corrupt scheme builds upon itself, until there is a steady stream of juveniles going into prison, for little or no offense, as some investigations revealed.
Child Rights advocates cannot stop the pipeline other than warn juveniles to stay out of the juvenile justice system. Any other intervention, such as revealing the truth behind the corruption, can lead to terminal consequences.
So for now, all we can say is: Keep You Hand Out of the Lion’s Mouth.