“Kids for cash” judge sentenced to 28 years in prison

A former juvenile court judge in Luzerne County, Pa., who accepted nearly $1 million to send juveniles to for-profit detention centers has been sentenced to 28 years in prison. The court also ordered the former judge, Mark Ciavarella Jr., to pay $1.17 million in restitution.

In what became known as the “kids for cash” scandal, Ciavarella and another former judge, Michael Conahan, received payments from the owner and builder of two privately-run juvenile detention facilities to close down the county’s own juvenile detention center and direct juvenile offenders to the private facilities, the Christian Science Monitor reports.

An investigation found that thousands of juveniles were shipped to the private centers on minor or questionable charges, the Associated Press reports. Half of the children who appeared before Ciavarella were not represented by a lawyer and were never advised of their right to counsel. Of those unrepresented children, up to 60 percent were ordered by Ciavarella to serve time at a detention facility. The more children they housed, the more profit the centers made.

In 2009, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court directed that all adjudications involving the roughly 4,000 children who appeared before Ciavarella between 2003 and 2008 be vacated and their records expunged.

In February, a federal court in Scranton, Pa., convicted Ciavarella of 12 charges, including racketeering conspiracy, filing false tax returns and money laundering.

"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, Reuters reports.

Ciavarella has insisted that he never accepted a bribe but only a finder’s fee for introducing the owner of the detention center business to a builder who was later awarded the contract to build the juvenile centers, the Christian Science Monitor reports. "Never took a dime to send a kid anywhere.... This case was about extortions and kickbacks, not about 'kids for cash,’ ” Ciavarella said after the verdict in February, according to the AP.

Conahan pleaded guilty last year to a single count of racketeering and is awaiting sentencing.

The U.S. Attorney's office said more than 30 local and state government officials and contractors have been convicted or are awaiting trial in the case, Reuters reports.