Former Pennsylvania county judge Mark Ciavarella Jr. was sentenced to 28 years in prison after being convicted of accepting a million dollars in bribe from a builder of juvenile detention centers.
In a highly scandalous case, Ciavarella had been accused of minting money by sentencing young children, many of them first time offenders, for detention.
Juvenile advocates said Ciavarella, 61, and another judge convicted children on flimsy grounds and sent them in hordes to detention centers, in cohorts with the builders of such facilities. The tainted judges together took home $2 million and extorted hundreds of thousands of dollars from a co-owner of the facility.
"Mr. Ciavarella abused his position of trust and inflicted a deep and lasting wound on the community he vowed to service ... The scheme involved a corrupt agreement with the operators of the for-profit juvenile facilities, U.S. Attorney Peter Smith said after the sentencing.
"It was a wholesale arrangement in which the judges concealed their interest and thereby did great damage to the public."
Ciavarella, who served as Luzerne County Juvenile Court, had been convicted in February of charges like racketeering conspiracy and money laundering.
Former judge Michael Conahan, co-accused in the case, pleaded guilty to racketeering charges and is awaiting sentencing. Conahan, who served as the president judge of the Luzerne County court, has been accused of shutting down the publicly owned Luzerne County Juvenile Detention Facility and helped arrange financing for the private facility.
Ciavarella had pleaded not guilty and defended that the money he took from the facility's owner amounted to "finder fees".
Once murky details were out in the open, the scandal hit notoriety as 'Kids for Cash' case. Attorneys have said at least 30 local and state government officials have been involved in the case. Most of them have been convicted and others are awaiting trial.
The widespread corruption involved in the sentencing of young offenders forced the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to overturn as many as 4,000 convictions made by Ciavarella.
Before the sentencing, Ciavarella forcefully denied that he had engaged in rights violations and attacked the case presented against him by the prosecutors.
"I did everything I was obligated to do protect these children's rights," he said. But he also apologized to his family, the Luzerne County bar and the community. He also apologized to juvenile offenders whose cases he handled. "I blame no one but myself for what happened," he said.
Ciavarella was known for his harsh and autocratic courtroom demeanor, AP has reported. The report said he filled the beds of the private lockups with children as young as 10, and took bribe from owners of such detention facilities. "Ciavarella often ordered youths he had found delinquent to be immediately shackled, handcuffed and taken away without giving them a chance to say goodbye to their families," the report says.