The Denver Post
This is still one of the most disturbing story's I have ever heard.
SCRANTON, Pa. — A former juvenile court judge who sent large numbers of children to detention centers was convicted Friday of racketeering for taking a $1 million kickback from the builder of the for-profit lockups, in what prosecutors said was a "kids for cash" scheme that ranks among the biggest courtroom frauds in U.S. history.
Former Luzerne County Judge Mark Ciavarella, 61, left the bench in disgrace two years ago after he and a second judge, Michael Conahan, were accused of using juvenile delinquents as pawns in a plot to get rich.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has dismissed 4,000 juvenile convictions issued by Ciavarella, saying he sentenced young offenders without regard for their constitutional rights.
Federal prosecutors accused Ciavarella and Conahan of taking more than $2 million in bribes from the builder of the PA Child Care and Western PA Child Care detention centers and extorting hundreds of thousands of dollars from the facilities' co-owner.
A federal jury in Scranton convicted Ciavarella of 12 counts, including racketeering, money laundering and conspiracy, but acquitted him of 27 counts, including extortion. He is likely to get a prison sentence of more than 12 years, according to prosecutors.
Ciavarella insisted the payments were legal and denied that he incarcerated youths for money — a position he defiantly clung to even after he was convicted of a charge, racketeering, that federal prosecutors often use to go after mobsters.
He was allowed to remain free pending sentencing, a decision that galled parents of juveniles who appeared before the judge. Ciavarella often ordered youths he had found delinquent to be shackled, handcuffed and taken away without giving them a chance to say goodbye to their families.
Some of the children he ordered locked up were as young as 10.
The mother of a former defendant who was jailed by Ciavarella — and who later killed himself — confronted the judge on the courthouse steps, screaming obscenities.
Sandy Fonzo's son, Edward Kenzakowski, was a 17-year-old all-star wrestler with no prior record when he landed in Ciavarella's courtroom for possession of drug paraphernalia. She said her son never recovered from the months he served at the detention centers and a wilderness camp.
Who is the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition?
Our chief areas of interest include drug policy reform, women in prison, racial injustice, the impact of incarceration on children and families, the problems associated with re-entry and stopping the practice of using private prisons in our state.
If you would like to be involved please go to our website and become a member.
Saturday, February 19, 2011
The Denver Post