Former Luzerne County juvenile court president Judge Mark Ciavarella, 70, was convicted along with former Luzerne County Judge Michael T. Conahan, 68, of accepting $2.8 million in kickbacks from Scranton-area builder Robert K. Mericle and a politically connected partner, developer Robert Powell, to first shut down the county’s juvenile facility, then send the juveniles to two private facilities built by Mericle and co-owned by Powell.
To fulfill his part of the scheme, Ciavarella adjudicated children as young as 12 and sent them to the private facilities in handcuffs. Many were first-time offenders without representation who were charged with minor offenses such as petty theft. In all, Ciavarella sent about 4,000 children to the PA Child Care and Western PA Child Care facilities between 2003 and 2008.
In 2011, Ciavarella was sentenced to 28 years in federal prison after an 11-day trial. The 12 counts he was convicted of included racketeering conspiracy and money-laundering conspiracy, which Ciavarella later challenged as being barred by the statute of limitations. Ruling on his post-conviction motion, U.S. District Judge Christopher C. Conner threw out three of the 12 counts. When Ciavarella claimed he was entitled to resentencing on the remaining counts, Conner balked.
“To be abundantly clear, if we were authorized to reduce Ciavarella’s sentence, we would decline to do so,” said Conner citing Ciavarella’s “abuse of public trust and the harm to juveniles,” as well as the fact that he “refuses to acknowledge the scope of his remaining crimes,” and stands convicted of bribery.
Ciavarella continues to assert he committed no crime. His arrogance did not go over well at the hearing on his motion, which was denied.
“This decision reinforces this office’s long standing commitment to bring justice to those victimized by these corrupt state judges,” said a statement made by U.S. Attorney David J. Freed. “They betrayed their community and deserve the substantial punishment they received.”
Conahan was sentenced to more than 17 years in prison for his part in the scheme but was released to home confinement in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Powell was sentenced to 18 months in prison.
In 2015, a settlement of $4.75 million was approved to compensate at least 2,400 of the children. The plaintiffs had previously settled with PA Child Care, Western PA Child Care and another company for $2.5 million.
In 2011, Mericle agreed to pay over $17 million to the children and their families. He also pleaded guilty to criminal charges.
The 4,000 convictions in Ciavarella’s court were later reversed. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court overturned hundreds of adjudications of delinquency. But the children, now adults, still must deal with having had Ciavarella run roughshod over their rights and locked them away with no justification save profits. United States v. Ciavarella, 481 F. Supp. 3d 399 (M.D. Pa. 2020).
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