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'Kids for cash' judge sentenced to 28 years for racketeering scheme

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.

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According to a 2010 report of the Interbranch Pennsylvania Commission on Juvenile Justice, A.A. was an honor roll student, a Girl Scout, and YMCA member, who attended bible school. She had no prior arrest record and had never even been in detention in school.

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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.

After her release, A.A. returned to school and, again, qualified for the honor roll. She is currently in college and plans to pursue a law degree. She told the investigating commission that she wants to defend the legal rights of children.

Ciavarella was convicted of 12 of 39 counts in his indictment. The jury found him guilty of engaging in a pattern of racketeering and participating in a racketeering conspiracy through his receipt and transfer of $997,600 from individuals associated with the juvenile detention centers.

He was also convicted of failing to record the secret payments on judicial financial disclosure forms from 2004 to 2007, and for filing false tax returns for those same years. In addition, the jury found him guilty of engaging in a money-laundering conspiracy to conceal the payments.

Prosecutors requested a life sentence.

In his sentencing memorandum, Ciavarella’s lawyer, Albert Flora, urged US District Judge Edwin Kosik to issue a sentence on the lower end of the guidelines range.

“If Mark Ciavarella never did one day of incarceration, he would still be punished,” Mr. Flora wrote. He said the former judge had been subject to “embarrassment, ridicule, and shame out of proportion to the offense.”

“The media attention to this matter has exceeded coverage given to many and almost all capital murders, and despite protestations, he will forever be unjustly branded as the ‘Kids for Cash’ judge,” Flora wrote.

Ciavarella has insisted that the money he received was not a bribe. He said it was a finder’s fee legally paid to him for introducing the owner of the detention center business to a builder who was later awarded the contract to build the juvenile centers. Ciavarella says there was never a quid pro quo of providing juvenile offenders in exchange for money.

Judge Kosik rejected this reasoning while calculating Ciavarella’s sentence.

“Defendant argues that the government planted a seed of the kids for cash idea without proof that the defendant sent kids away for cash,” Kosik said in a pre-sentence ruling. “While there was no evidence of the number of kids put away, there was evidence of the defendant’s financial interest [in the construction and operation of the juvenile detention centers],” the judge wrote.

At trial, a co-owner of the juvenile detention business, Robert Powell, testified that Ciavarella kept a record of the number of children he sent to the facility, as well as the amount of money the owners were making. According to court documents, Ciavarella allegedly told Mr. Powell: “…so it’s not about me sending kids anymore. I know how much money you’re making, and it’s time to step up.”

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