Two Pennsylvania judges were sued in federal court this past week for allegedly taking $2.6 million in kickbacks from private juvenile detention facilities. In exchange, they sentenced hundreds of youths to the centers over the past 5 years. One of the judges, Mark Ciavarella, sent 1 out of 4 defendants to the centers, compared to a statewide rate of 1 in 10.
Judge Michael Conahan is accused of securing the contracts from PA Child Care‘s former owner, Robert Powell, while Judge Ciavarella did the dirty work of keeping the private facilities well-stocked with new wards.
With Judge Conahan serving as president judge in control of the budget and Judge Ciavarella overseeing the juvenile courts, they set the kickback scheme in motion in December 2002, the authorities said.
They shut down the county-run juvenile detention center, arguing that it was in poor condition, the authorities said, and maintained that the county had no choice but to send detained juveniles to the newly built private detention centers.
Prosecutors say the judges tried to conceal the kickbacks as payments to a company they control in Florida.
Both men pleaded guilty to fraud on Thursday, and if the plea is accepted by the court, they’ll spend 87 months in prison, be forced to resign from the bench and the bar, and lose their pension benefits.
Separately, plaintiffs in the federal suits are also suing the former and current owners of PA Child Care, as well as the owner of the construction company that built the detention centers. The feds, on the other hand, have said they’re not targeting PA child Care in their corruption probe, which has been under new ownership since last summer.
Update: Chatterboxwriting points out that the local paper for the area has an entire section devoted to covering the scandal.
“Judges Plead Guilty in Scheme to Jail Youths for Profit” [New York Times]
“2 Pa. judges sued in $2.6M kickback scheme” [Associated Press]