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‘Kids for cash’ judge sentenced to 28 years for racketeering scheme

Mr. Ciavarella was convicted in federal court in Scranton, Pa., in February on charges that he and a second judge, Michael Conahan, ran the local court system as a racketeering enterprise.

Mark Ciavarella

A Pennsylvania judge was sentenced Thursday for his part in what prosecutors called a 'kids for cash' scheme that sent juvenile offenders to privately run detention facilities in return for kickbacks.

Ciavarella had a reputation as a no-nonsense jurist who would not hesitate to sentence young, first-time offenders to juvenile detention. He also gained a reputation as a judge prone to cut constitutional corners.

Amid mounting questions about Ciavarella’s actions as a juvenile judge, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in 2009 directed that all adjudications involving children appearing before Ciavarella from 2003 to 2008 be vacated and their records expunged. The directive is estimated to involve 4,000 cases.

One of those cases involved 16-year-old A.A., who was arrested for gesturing with her middle finger at a police officer who had been called during a custody dispute involving her parents and her sister.

She was sent to Ciavarella’s court, and was told she wouldn’t need a lawyer since it was a minor issue.

After examining the paperwork, Ciavarella informed A.A. that she had no respect for authority. She later told the investigating commission that Ciavarella never gave her an opportunity to speak at the hearing. She was led out of the courtroom in shackles and held in juvenile detention for six months.

Ciavarella, known for his harsh and autocratic courtroom demeanor, 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 judge remained defiant after his arrest, insisting the payments were legal and denying he incarcerated youths for money.

The jury returned a mixed verdict following a February trial, convicting him of 12 counts, including racketeering and conspiracy, and acquitting him of 27 counts, including extortion. The guilty verdicts related to a payment of $997,600 from the builder.

Conahan pleaded guilty last year and awaits sentencing.

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