A former juvenile court judge has been sentenced to 28 years in prison for accepting over $1 million in bribe money to send children to for-profit detention centers in what has become known as the “kids for cash” scandal.
Mark Ciavarella Jr, who once presided on the juvenile court bench in Lucerne County, PA, accepted bribes from owners of two for-profit detention centers in Pennsylvania for sending thousands of kids to jail on questionable charges, the Associated Press has reported. Over half of those kids did not have a lawyer present and were never even advised to their right to counsel.
"Mr. Ciavarella abused his position of trust and inflicted a deep and lasting wound on the community he vowed to service," U.S. Attorney Peter Smith said following the sentencing on Thursday, according to Reuters.
Linda Deiter, a mother whose 11 year-old son was sentenced by Ciavarella for driving the family car over the curb in front of their home, told WNEP, “They kept my son for almost two years. He was 13 years old when he came home. He wasn’t the same kid.”
Another case involved a 16 year-old girl who was arrested for sticking up her middle finger at a cop called to her home for a domestic matter. The girl was an honor roll student and a Girl Scout who attended bible school, a probe by the Interbranch Pennsylvania Commission on Juvenile Justice reported.
Typical of how Ciavarella handled is cases, he told the girl that she would not need a lawyer since it was "a minor issue." After reviewing some paperwork, Ciavarella had the girl shackled and sentenced to six months in a detention center.
That girl is now in college and plans on becoming a lawyer to fight for child rights.
Some also accuse Ciavarella of having blood on his hands.
Protestors outside the federal courthouse in Scranton. PA wore white t-shits commemorating Edward Kenzakowski III, whose suicide at the age of 23 they say is the result of Ciavarella’s overly harsh, for-profit sentencing, according to the Citizen's Voice.
Sandy Fonzo, Kenzakowski’s mother, said her son’s downward spiral began when he was 17. At that time, Ciavarella gave Kenzakowski 30 days for underage drinking and was then forced to go to a work camp where he came into contact with gang members and other juveniles being held for heavy charges such as homicide.
"The kid was never the same," Fonzo told the Citizen’s Voice in February. "He (Ciavarella) ripped him out of his home."
Kenzakowski’s troubles continued when Ciavarella revoked his probation years later and sentenced him to time in another for-profit juvenile detention center.
"There goes his job. There goes his life. He got into a fight. It just began to snowball,” Fonzo said.
Her son shot himself in the chest last June.
Fonzo has not forgotten what Ciavarella did: "He's a scumbag. He ruined my (expletive deleted) life," she said. “There's no justice unless he dies.”
After being sentenced to 28 years in prison and ordered to pay back the money he made from unfairly locking up children, Ciavarella insisted that he was a victim of how the prosecution sensationalized his case in the media by describing it as the “kids for cash” scandal.
"Those three words made me the personification of evil,” Ciavarella told the courtroom. “They made me the Antichrist and the devil. Those words caused untold hurt and agony for me and my family. They made me toxic."
Ciavarella, 61, is to begin serving his sentence immediately. He will be eligible for parole in 2035 at the age of 84.
Robert K. Mericle – the man who paid Ciavarella a "finder's fee" for his support for the juvenile detention centers in the "kids for cash" scandal, made a plea deal with the government; he gave them $2,150,000 for the “health, safety and general welfare of children” in the same county where kids were illegally incarcerated for profit.