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Friday, February 13, 2009

Judges Accused of Jailing Kids for Cash (UPDATE: GUILTY PLEA)

Pa. judges accused of jailing kids for cash
The Associated Press by MICHAEL RUBINKAM and MARYCLAIRE DALE - February 11, 2009

WILKES-BARRE, Pa. – For years, the juvenile court system in Wilkes-Barre operated like a conveyor belt: Youngsters were brought before judges without a lawyer, given hearings that lasted only a minute or two, and then sent off to juvenile prison for months for minor offenses.
The explanation, prosecutors say, was corruption on the bench. In one of the most shocking cases of courtroom graft on record, two Pennsylvania judges have been charged with taking millions of dollars in kickbacks to send teenagers to two privately run youth detention centers. "I've never encountered, and I don't think that we will in our lifetimes, a case where literally thousands of kids' lives were just tossed aside in order for a couple of judges to make some money," said Marsha Levick, an attorney with the Philadelphia-based Juvenile Law Center, which is representing hundreds of youths sentenced in Wilkes-Barre.

Prosecutors say Luzerne County Judges Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan took $2.6 million in payoffs to put juvenile offenders in lockups run by PA Child Care LLC and a sister company, Western PA Child Care LLC. The judges were charged on Jan. 26 and removed from the bench by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court shortly afterward. No company officials have been charged, but the investigation is still going on. The high court, meanwhile, is looking into whether hundreds or even thousands of sentences should be overturned and the juveniles' records expunged. Among the offenders were teenagers who were locked up for months for stealing loose change from cars, writing a prank note and possessing drug paraphernalia. Many had never been in trouble before. Some were imprisoned even after probation officers recommended against it.  Many appeared without lawyers, despite the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark 1967 ruling that children have a constitutional right to counsel. 

The judges are scheduled to plead guilty to fraud Thursday in federal court. Their plea agreements call for sentences of more than seven years behind bars. Ciavarella, 58, who presided over Luzerne County's juvenile court for 12 years, acknowledged last week in a letter to his former colleagues, "I have disgraced my judgeship. My actions have destroyed everything I worked to accomplish and I have only myself to blame." Ciavarella, though, has denied he got kickbacks for sending youths to prison. Conahan, 56, has remained silent about the case.

Many Pennsylvania counties contract with privately run juvenile detention centers, paying them either a fixed overall fee or a certain amount per youth, per day. In Luzerne County, prosecutors say, Conahan shut down the county-run juvenile prison in 2002 and helped the two companies secure rich contracts worth tens of millions of dollars, at least some of that dependent on how many juveniles were locked up. One of the contracts — a 20-year agreement with PA Child Care worth an estimated $58 million — was later canceled by the county as exorbitant. The judges are accused of taking payoffs between 2003 and 2006. Robert J. Powell co-owned PA Child Care and Western PA Child Care until June. His attorney, Mark Sheppard, said his client was the victim of an extortion scheme. "Bob Powell never solicited a nickel from these judges and really was a victim of their demands," he said. "These judges made it very plain to Mr. Powell that he was going to be required to pay certain monies. For years, youth advocacy groups complained that Ciavarella was ridiculously harsh and ran roughshod over youngsters' constitutional rights. Ciavarella sent a quarter of his juvenile defendants to detention centers from 2002 to 2006, compared with a statewide rate of one in 10.

The criminal charges confirmed the advocacy groups' worst suspicions and have called into question all the sentences he pronounced. Hillary Transue did not have an attorney, nor was she told of her right to one, when she appeared in Ciavarella's courtroom in 2007 for building a MySpace page that lampooned her assistant principal. Her mother, Laurene Transue, worked for 16 years in the child services department of another county and said she was certain Hillary would get a slap on the wrist. Instead, Ciavarella sentenced her to three months; she got out after a month, with help from a lawyer. "I felt so disgraced for a while, like, what do people think of me now?" said Hillary, now 17 and a high school senior who plans to become an English teacher. Laurene Transue said Ciavarella "was playing God. And not only was he doing that, he was getting money for it. He was betraying the trust put in him to do what is best for children." Kurt Kruger, now 22, had never been in trouble with the law until the day police accused him of acting as a lookout while his friend shoplifted less than $200 worth of DVDs from Wal-Mart. He said he didn't know his friend was going to steal anything Kruger pleaded guilty before Ciavarella and spent three days in a company-run juvenile detention center, plus four months at a youth wilderness camp run by a different operator. "Never in a million years did I think that I would actually get sent away. I was completely destroyed," said Kruger, who later dropped out of school. He said he wants to get his record expunged, earn his high school equivalency diploma and go to college. "I got a raw deal, and yeah, it's not fair," he said, "but now it's 100 times bigger than me."

Update: Ciavarella, Conahan plead guilty to Luzerne County corruption charges

Luzerne County Judges Mark A. Ciavarella and Michael T. Conahan pleaded guilty this afternoon to corruption charges. They face 87 months in prison, according to their plea agreements.
The Times-Tribune, a Staff Report - February 12, 2009

Courthouse Corruption -  Pleas won't bring quick trip to prison

1:33 p.m. - Attorneys are reviewing evidence during the plea hearing for suspended Luzerne County Judges Mark A. Ciavarella and Michael T. Conahan. Their guilty plea agreement on two corruption charges each has not yet been finalized. Federal marshals opened a second courtroom in the William J. Nealon Federal building to accommodate the over-capacity crowd in Courtroom 1. About two dozen people are watching the proceedings on large projector screens in Courtroom 2 and a throng of cameramen, photographers and reporters from local, state and national media await the conclusion of the proceedings on the sidewalk outside the building.

12:35 p.m. - Former Luzerne County Judge Ann H. Lokuta arrived at the federal courthouse in Scranton just before noon. "This is my true day in court. I've been waiting for this day for many years," she said. "This is real justice." Suspended Luzerne County Judges Mark A. Ciavarella and Michael T. Conahan testified in her trial before the state Judicial Conduct Board that ended with Lokuta being removed from the county bench in December for being rude to witnesses, court staff and attorneys, and often being late or absent for court proceedings during her 17-year career. Lokuta requested more time to file documents with the State Supreme Court in her appeal of the ruling after the plea agreements for Ciavarella and Conahan were announced. Susan Mishanski came to court today with a sign for the accused judges.

"Kev's free, Ciavarella and Conahan not!" it said, a reference to the marked twist in the fates of her son, Kevin Williamson, who spent 57 days at a juvenile detention camp after appearing in Ciavarella's court, and the judges who could spend more than 7 years in prison. Ciavarella and Conahan are accused of taking $2.6 million in kickbacks to facilitate the development of a juvenile detention center in Pittston Township and a similar facility in Butler County. "He owes a whole lot of people a whole lot of apologies," Mishanski, of Hanover Township, said. Williamson, 18, is a senior at Hanover Area High School. The hearing has also drawn spectators without ties to the two judges. Robin Guerrero, of Swoyersville said she's been planning her trip to Scranton for a week to witness the plea hearing, even though she doesn't have any ties to the case. "I think it's horrible" Guerrero said. "The money they took is horrible. The corruption is horrible. What they did to the kids is horrible."

11:35 a.m. - Assistant U.S. Attorney Gordon Zubrod arrived at the federal courthouse in Scranton around 11 a.m. He is the lead prosecutor in the federal corruption case against Luzerne County Mark A. Ciavarella and Michael T. Conahan.  Under a plea agreement, the two judges would serve 87 months in prison on charges of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit tax fraud. A federal judge will hold a plea agreement hearing at 1 p.m.

10:52 a.m. - Luzerne County judges Mark A. Ciavarella and Michael T. Conahan made a quick entrance into the William J. Nealon Federal Building in Scranton when they arrived for their preliminary hearing Thursday morning.  The judges and the lawyers pulled up to the courthouse steps at about 9:45 a.m. for their plea hearing, scheduled for 1 p.m. The plea agreements signed by Ciavarella and Conahan carry 87 months in prison for the corruption charges.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this article as it shows a Side of the Justice system that is vile but not often exposed.

And thanks for all the NY Families who have had Children and other relatives "taken" by the system, sometimes drugged against their consent, and usually because the family either:

a. Did not know the "right" politically connected lawyer or judge; or

b. Did not PAY enough to the "right" politically connected lawyer or judge.

Anyone know what happened to AG Cuomo's investigation of Dan Wiese who was involved in squashing that Federal investigation into the Gov Pataki "parold for cash" Scandal??

Wasn't that scandal along the same lines as this PA Story where you either get paid or pay to play in the system??

Anyone know if AG Cuomo will be able to effectively complete the Wiese investigation since he is now taking Money from Gov Pataki's Main Orchestrator and Puppet Master, Alphonse the "Fonz" D'amato?

Anonymous said...

Kids are also been sold for pedophilia and child porn by officers of the court.

Anonymous said...

I did a quick search and came up with numerous blogs, comments, and media outlet coverage...

It's good to see how many people are offended by this...

one comment from another board...

61. The Republicans "cross endorsed" Ciaveralla and the Dems tried to "strong arm" Conahan out of the
race? since when do Republicans "cross endorse" a Democratic candidate for state judge?

Anonymous said...

other than the above...

most people don't care what the political affiliation is... they are shocked, outraged, and they want them out and in jail...

corruption is corruption...

Anonymous said...

Now this I did not know...

Honest Judges are gagged from discussing corruption with the media..


Let's say an honest Judge with a conscience knew about these Pa. colleagues..

Where could that Judge go?

Would there have been any way for the honest Judge to expose them? ie the Whistleblower Statute?

If not the system is closed and breeding corruption...

Anonymous said...

National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges will pay $300,000.00

Anonymous said...

Butler County is a joke. In Bulter Couny Juvenile Court Magistrate Diane Songer gave my ex full custody of my daughter. I have had her all her life< and she(my baby) is wanting to come back home to be with her mommy. Diane gave him custody knowing his wife has touched my baby inappropriately & tried to bleme it on my husband. This stuck her fingers in my baby's vagina, but Diane songer seems to think that's where my baby should be in same house with the woman who touched her plus Diane songer felt my ex would be the the parent who would facilitate parenting time better. One week later she one & half week later Diane Songer signed a Exparte order to keep me from getting my daughter to this day that order is still in effect 3 months. That child abuse and I'm going to get 20/20 in on the corruption in Bulter County. I have contacted them (20/20) they want a copy on everything, so I copied everything put it on a CD so let's see how Butler County Juvenile acts when they have camera's & microphones in there faces asking them why, why why...

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Blog Archive

See Video of Senator John L. Sampson's 1st Hearing on Court 'Ethics' Corruption

The first hearing, held in Albany on June 8, 2009 hearing is on two videos:

               Video of 1st Hearing on Court 'Ethics' Corruption
               The June 8, 2009 hearing is on two videos:
               CLICK HERE TO SEE Part 1
               CLICK HERE TO SEE Part 2