Judge guilty in kids for cash scheme

A federal jury on Friday found a former Pennsylvania judge guilty in a so-called kids-for-cash scheme, in which he took money in exchange for sending juvenile offenders to for-profit detention centers.

Former Luzerne County Judge Mark Ciavarella Jr. was accused of taking $2.8 million in bribes and kickbacks for putting juveniles into detention centers owned by friends.

The jury in Scranton found him guilty of racketeering, money-laundering conspiracy, fraud and filing false income tax returns.

The jury found him not guilty, however, of seven counts of extortion and 10 counts of bribery.

The former judge faces a maximum sentence of 157 years in prison. The jury also ruled he must forfeit $997,600.

“The jury did its job,” said U.S. Attorney Peter Smith afterward in a news conference broadcast on local radio.

In trial testimony, Ciavarella, who presided over the Luzerne County Juvenile Court, denied he accepted money but did admit hiding funds from the Internal Revenue Service.

Ciavarella, 60, was a judge for 14 years.

Prosecutors said he took kickbacks from Robert Mericle, the builder of the PA Child Care detention center near Wilkes Barre, and from Robert Powell, a co-owner of the center.

According to prosecutors, Ciavarella threatened to send juveniles somewhere else if he did not get cash from the men.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Gordon Zubrod said following the verdict that the court system during the time of Ciavarella and another judge, Michael Conahan, was a “criminal enterprise.”

The other judge, Conahan, pleaded guilty last year to one count of racketeering conspiracy. He has not been sentenced.

In 2009, both judges were offered plea agreements that would have resulted in 87 months in prison.

But those offers were subsequently nullified by U.S. District Judge Edwin Kosik, who deemed them insufficient. Kosik presided over the Ciavarella case.

Copyright © 2011 Reuters

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