Patterico's Pontifications

2/21/2011

Judge Found Guilty of Fraud, Racketeering in “Cash For Kids” Scandal

Filed under: General — Aaron Worthing @ 1:06 pm

[Guest post by Aaron Worthing; if you have tips, please send them here.]

I don’t know if you have been following this story, but it’s pretty awful.  A pair of judges were accused of getting kickbacks from privately run detention facilities—that is, if they sent kids to juvenile detention facilities, in exchange for money.  And while I don’t have very good quotes here, but following the story I have seen examples where the kids in question were very likely innocent, or committed such a minor offense they didn’t deserve any time in detention, but they got it anyway.

Fortunately those kids have gotten a little justice.

Former Luzerne County Common Pleas Court Judge Mark A. Ciavarella Jr. has been found guilty of 12 of 39 counts of corruption filed against him, a federal jury in Scranton announced today.

The 12 men and women, who deliberated for an estimated 12.5 hours, returned to U.S. District Judge for the Middle District of Pennsylvania Edwin M. Kosik’s courtroom to announce their findings, which included decisions that Ciavarella was guilty of racketeering, racketeering conspiracy, honest services mail fraud, money laundering conspiracy and a host of tax fraud charges. Ciavarella was cleared of extortion, bribery and honest services wire fraud charges, however.

U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Pennsylvania Peter Smith had praise for the verdict, saying it “puts the lie” to the claim that corruption in Northeast Pennsylvania is the status quo.

I would not want to be ex-Judge Ciavarella when he faces sentencing.  The sentencing judge is likely to be infuriated at his corruption of the justice system and his denigration of the profession, and probably be much harder on him than if he was, say, just some city sanitation worker.  As they say, read the whole thing.  (Registration might be required.)  Meanwhile this analysis of how the case was built argues that it was sort of a “Al Capone” prosecution, ignoring the serious substantive harms in favor of the more provable financial crimes.

Finally, this account leapt out at me:

At a friend’s sleepover more than a year ago, 14-year-old Phillip Swartley pocketed change from unlocked vehicles in the neighborhood to buy chips and soft drinks. The cops caught him.

There was no need for an attorney, said Phillip’s mother, Amy Swartley, who thought at most, the judge would slap her son with a fine or community service.

But she was shocked to find her eighth-grader handcuffed and shackled in the courtroom and sentenced to a youth detention center. Then, he was shipped to a boarding school for troubled teens for nine months.

“Yes, my son made a mistake, but I didn’t think he was going to be taken away from me,” said Swartley, a 41-year-old single mother raising two boys in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.

CNN does not usually identify minors accused of crimes. But Swartley and others agreed to be named to bring public attention to the issue.

In fact what happens in juvenile justice cases is that they are generally sealed, and their records are expunged in most states somewhere in early adulthood.  So what happens in that system is a big mystery to the majority of the public.  Do you think that secrecy might have played a role in 1) helping to make this possible, and 2) making these corrupt judges think they could get away with it?

Bad things tend to breed in the dark.  And as they say, sunlight is the best disinfectant.

——————–

Finally, if you want to read more on the scandal and how it happened, here’s the page for the Interbranch Commission on Juvenile Justice, which reported extensively on the issue.

[Posted and authored by Aaron Worthing.]

44 Responses to “Judge Found Guilty of Fraud, Racketeering in “Cash For Kids” Scandal”

  1. …saying it “puts the lie” to the claim that corruption in Northeast Pennsylvania is the status quo.

    if it wasn’t the status quo, they wouldn’t have ahd to file the case.

    as usual, the feds are lying.

    redc1c4 (fb8750)

  2. redc1

    well, one incident doesn’t prove a culture or trend.

    Aaron Worthing (e7d72e)

  3. forcible enslavement only warrants a few years?

    sofa (7a7f36)

  4. Ciavarvella sent 15-year-old Hillary Transue to a wilderness camp for mocking an assistant principal on a MySpace page.

    these kids will win money from the county, no? Or is it just Ciavarvella what’s liable?

    happyfeet (ab5779)

  5. happy

    probably the opposite. the county will pay and the judge will not.

    Aaron Worthing (e7d72e)

  6. all it says is… “Court officials say some children may have their records expunged or be granted new hearings.”

    That’s not near good enough.

    happyfeet (ab5779)

  7. oh… that’s cheering enough being disgraced and jailed and unemployed is a just punishment for the judge crooks – in the article it sorta says that someone should’ve noticed all these kids were waiving rights to attorneys – so the county definitely dropped the ball

    “When you have this many kids waiving counsel, then that’s way out of line,” said Marsha Levick, an attorney at the Juvenile Law Center. “There was no record [Ciavarella] was assuring the child and parent about the consequences of not having representation.”

    CNN of course has to make private detention facilities the bad guy. Probably cause they figure only overpaid government union whores should run detention centers. I don’t agree.

    happyfeet (ab5779)

  8. happy

    i think there was a case where the S.C. of PA dismissed without prejudice all of the kids’ convictions. could be wrong, but let me see what i can learn.

    Aaron Worthing (e7d72e)

  9. happy, I don’t think there’s any documented instances of correction workers unions bribing judges to send more kids to prison. In my own state, prisons (juvenile and otherwise) are so overcrowded that the corrections department has massive staff turn-over every year and is always struggling to hire enough workers for a very thankless task.

    In this case, CNN made the private detention facilities the bad guy because, well, in this case they WERE the bad guy, along with the judges they bribed.

    PatHMV (90b4ad)

  10. Guess what political party he’s affiliated with (according to Wikipedia)?

    Diffus (228fe4)

  11. I went and read about a dozen stories regarding this, and IMO, Ciavarella should go to prison for the rest of his life. And, I ain’t talking country club prison. I’m talking REAL prison.

    Lock him up with the gangbangers and toss the keys. He’s earned it.

    Dave Surls (7c5174)

  12. i’m with pat on this one. the private detention facilities are the bad guys in this. its just the truth in this instance.

    Aaron Worthing (e7d72e)

  13. The state of Pennsylvania certainly does seem to be having a few image and ethics problems being exposed over the past month.

    elissa (8b40b7)

  14. When he added later that “this was not a cash-for-kids scandal,” a woman in the crowd began crying and screaming that Ciavarella had driven her son to suicide by sending him to juvenile detention.

    “Do you remember me? Do you remember my son, the all-star wrestler?” she asked Ciavarella. “He shot himself in the heart.”

    The judge, continuing to shuffle toward his car, told reporters, “I don’t know what the circumstances were concerning her son.”Still, this is not the end of the fallout from those
    allegations for Ciavarella.*

    whoa that is very very intense and impossibly sad

    but again I don’t think you can condemn the privatization of detention facilities just cause these particular judges were corrupt and this particular program was bribey…

    on balance private detention and treatment centers save tons of monies for America… which, that’s value

    happyfeet (ab5779)

  15. I’ve seen the clip on CNN of the mom screaming at the judge because her son committed suicide after he’d over-punished him. I just want him to have to stand there and listen to her and see her for hours.

    MayBee (081489)

  16. 16.I’ve seen the clip on CNN of the mom screaming at the judge because her son committed suicide after he’d over-punished him. I just want him to have to stand there and listen to her and see her for hours.
    Comment by MayBee

    Repeatedly, on video, in prison.

    I’m sure there are more than enough juveniles from Philly who really would warrant the faclities. So a two fold crime, not only ruining the lives of kids put in detention unnecessarily, but probably adding to crime victims in Philly from kids who should have been off of the steet.

    MD inh Philly (3d3f72)

  17. Our esteemed guest host wrote:

    I would not want to be ex-Judge Ciavarella when he faces sentencing. The sentencing judge is likely to be infuriated at his corruption of the justice system and his denigration of the profession, and probably be much harder on him than if he was, say, just some city sanitation worker.

    Judge Ciavarella, and his partner in crime, Judge Michael Conahan, both Democrats, had already pleaded guilty, in exchange for an 87 month sentence. Then things went bad:

    Ex-judges’ plea deal is rejected¹
    By Robert Moran, Philadelphia Inquirer Staff Writer

    In a major reversal, a federal judge rejected plea agreements yesterday for two disgraced former Luzerne County Court judges accused of taking kickbacks for sending juveniles to for-profit detention centers.

    U.S. District Judge Edwin M. Kosik issued a five-page order saying Mark A. Ciavarella Jr. and Michael T. Conahan had taken actions or made public statements since their February guilty pleas that demonstrated that they had not accepted responsibility for their crimes.

    The order opened the door for the defendants to withdraw their guilty pleas and go to trial, renegotiate their plea deals, or throw themselves on the mercy of the court, said Daniel Richman, a law professor at Columbia University and a former federal prosecutor.

    For the third option, however, “this judge has demonstrated that there might not be that much mercy involved,” Richman said.

    The agreements, in exchange for pleading guilty to corruption and tax fraud, had been criticized as too lenient. Both defendants were facing 87 months – less than 7½ years – in prison, which was “well below the sentencing guidelines for the charged offenses,” Kosik wrote.

    Ciavarella and Conahan originally faced maximum sentences of 25 years each and substantial fines, Kosik wrote.

    The plea deals were binding, meaning the judge did not have the discretion to impose his own sentence.

    “This is a relatively rare instance,” Richman said, “where a judge is given a take-it-or-leave-it choice on sentencing, and the judge chose to leave it.”

    Ciavarella and Conahan are accused of collecting a total of $2.6 million over seven years from a former owner of two for-profit detention centers – one in Luzerne County and the other in Butler County – and their developer.

    ______________________
    ¹- The Philadelphia Inquirer, Saturday, 1 August 2009, p. A-1

    The Dana from Pennsylvania (132cf8)

  18. Juvenile facilities can be like Lord of the Flies.

    Juvenile detention is nowhere to be if you are young and a late bloomer physically.

    The judge deserves to be thrown to the wolves

    SteveG (cc5dc9)

  19. “I’ve seen the clip on CNN of the mom screaming at the judge because her son committed suicide after he’d over-punished him.”

    Actually, the all-star wrestler committed suicide after he got out of prison for aggravated assault. He was sentenced to three to six years for beating on a guy (sentenced by a different court).

    Just because the judge is a scumbag, it doesn’t follow that everyone who appeared in his court was some kind of angel.

    Dave Surls (7c5174)

  20. Dave Surls, I agree with you. The ‘cash-for-kids’ kickback is wrong, on the face of it. In any event, the all-star wrestler was not some ‘victim of the system’ who killed himself because of this judge; btw, the parents are split and his home home life was tumultuous at best (big surprise).

    But, in my own family, we have a ‘problem child.’ He assaulted another family member, was arrested and sent to juvie. He refused family legal help, and was assigned a public defender. Long story short, he was assigned to an ‘outward bound’ type of wilderness camp and ran away. He is not contrite, and the lessons he is learning are not healthy. He has now learned that if he acts out, he will be away from his family (which is half of what he wants). The other half of what this 16 year-old wants, is to be set up in his own living situation; I believe it is so he will be free to do drugs and behave as he wants. He has court assigned meetings six night a week, and is resisting at every turn. It is a financial and emotional hell for his parents (and siblings).

    But kids don’t get thrown into juvenile facilities without good reason. Best advice, just like adults, don’t act like an @$$hole and you won’t get locked up.

    TimesDisliker (5d76cf)


  21. i’m with pat on this one. the private detention facilities are the bad guys in this. its just the truth in this instance.


    Sorry, Aaron — the judges are the bad guys in this one. The private detention facilities need to be seriously punished, too, but they aren’t individuals** charged with the power to do violence to one’s life directly.

    They needed accomplices.

    ==============================
    ** Not suggesting by any means that we don’t take the individual bribing operators, cover them with honey, and stake them all out on a fire ant hill, along with the judges. The judges get honey on their scrotums, is all I’m sayin’…

    ==============================

    But kids don’t get thrown into juvenile facilities without good reason.


    Sounds like they did in this case. I suspect the judges in question are also going to find themselves the targets of civil cases for violating the civil rights of the minors in question.

    I hope they lose every single dime and shekel they’ve got.

    IgotBupkis, President, United Anarchist Society (c9dcd8)

  22. honey is expensive we should make cornbread and just shoot everybody involved

    happyfeet (ab5779)

  23. How were the jailers the bad guys? It’s not up to them to decide who’s guilty or innocent? I doubt there’s any evidence that they paid the judges to send them innocent kids. I’m sure that whatever was in their hearts, all the record will show is that they paid the judges to send guilty kids to their facilities rather than dispose of their cases in some other way. That’s not good government by any means, but it doesn’t make them monsters. That burden, at least as far as anyone can prove, lies strictly on the judges themselves.

    Milhouse (3d984b)

  24. happy

    probably the opposite. the county will pay and the judge will not.

    The county has the deeper pockets.

    Note than when employees screw up, it is the employer who ends up paying damages.

    Michael Ejercito (64388b)

  25. Guess this will teach the parents in that community not to send their kids to court with no lawyer, expecting a wrist-slap.

    The Sanity Inspector (05a415)

  26. The individual humans who paid the bribes to the judges didn’t use their own money, I’m quite certain. They undoubtedly used their corporate employer’s money to pay the bribes one way or the other. The corporation received substantial financial benefits as a result of those bribes. Thus, the corporations themselves are guilty as sin as well.

    That doesn’t mean that ALL private prison operators are evil, just that this particular one is.

    Milhouse, why the hell would you even want to try to defend this corporation in this circumstance? Seriously, it doesn’t get much more egregious than what they did.

    PatHMV (299e25)

  27. As for the judges facing civil liability, my understanding is that the courts have already ruled that their judicial immunity from civil suit is absolute, even in these outrageous circumstances.

    PatHMV (299e25)

  28. well, one incident doesn’t prove a culture or trend.

    and the Feds got drawn in for just one instance?

    yeah, right. pull the other one, it’s got bells on it.

    PS: it’s “red” in the shortened form.

    redc1c4 (fb8750)

  29. Aaron…

    I grew up in that area. Still have a lot of family in that area. It’s as corrupt as the day is long.

    In the past year or two:
    1. A Luzerne County Commissioner copped a plea to corruption (football fans may recognize the name Greg Skrepenak… high school star in Wilkes-Barre, All-American at Michigan, played a few years in the pros). Yes, that Greg Skrepenak.
    2. A judge, who I knew well when we were growing up, was tossed from the bench for conduct unbecoming. Supposedly, there’s more coming out.
    3. A school board official in Wilkes-Barre was charged with taking $5,000 bribes from teaching position candidates.

    Going back in time, three members of our local school board were convicted of bribery and assorted other corrupt acts, including the board president and secretary. That was in the 1970s.

    Earlier, back in the 1950s, my grandfather was a coal hauler in a small town that had its own school system (before consolidation mania hit). He wouldn’t put coal the school had paid for into the bin of the school board president. The next year, he lost the contract. (This guy was later one of the guys convicted in the 1970s).

    I could fill a lengthy blog post with all the crap that has gone on there. Sadly, Ciavarella and Conahan are just following the corrupt footsteps that have trod that area before them.

    either orr (58d2a4)

  30. either orr

    Yeah my Wife’s family is from that area – so is Hillary and the judge in this case is her cousin, in fact my daughter was there yesterday – I’ve seen this guy on public square (its a traffic circle) the surrounding buildings are now changed from banks and companies to subsidized housing, elderly accomidations and the expansion of Kings college that town is a government corruption center

    BTW

    or so it is said

    EricPWJohnson (862059)

  31. Or so its said that its Hillary’s cousin

    sorry post cut off

    EricPWJohnson (862059)

  32. Remember their was a horrible teacher pay for jobs scandal as well

    EricPWJohnson (862059)


  33. How were the jailers the bad guys? It’s not up to them to decide who’s guilty or innocent? I doubt there’s any evidence that they paid the judges to send them innocent kids. I’m sure that whatever was in their hearts, all the record will show is that they paid the judges to send guilty kids to their facilities rather than dispose of their cases in some other way

    It’s called a perverse incentive, Milhouse.

    Kinda like offering lots and lots of grant money to any researcher who is doing studies of, oh, AGW and happens to “find out” things which are supportive to AGW.

    IgotBupkis, President, United Anarchist Society (c9dcd8)


  34. The individual humans who paid the bribes to the judges didn’t use their own money, I’m quite certain. They undoubtedly used their corporate employer’s money to pay the bribes one way or the other. The corporation received substantial financial benefits as a result of those bribes. Thus, the corporations themselves are guilty as sin as well.

    Uhhhh, Pat, a corporation is a legal fiction.

    There’s no actual thing there.

    It’s a lot of individuals making decisions to do this and that related to a goal.

    The primary reason for a corporation is to isolate liability from the individuals involved, both the stockholders and the operators, and, for the most part, that’s acceptable.

    However — when the individuals who operate the corporation willfully break the law — that is, when it is blatantly self-evident that they’ve crossed a line — then they, less so than the stockholders — should be the ones to suffer.

    IgotBupkis, President, United Anarchist Society (c9dcd8)

  35. Why isn’t the prison company being prosecuted???

    JEA (9cd3bd)

  36. The stockholders received the profits from the misdeeds of the corporate officials hired, ultimately, by the board of directors elected by those same stockholders. So the stockholders and everybody who stood to profit from the activities also get to share the pain of disgorging those wrongfully-earned profits, and whatever other consequences are attendant.

    Any other rule allows corporations to reap benefits from the illegal misdeeds of their executives, while avoiding any liability. That would be a perverse incentive for corporate bosses to look the other way, tacitly supporting (while always with plausible deniability!) those illegal actions.

    PatHMV (17ac06)

  37. EricPWJohnson…

    I know Public Square all too well. After Agnes hit in ’72, they tried all kinds of different things to bring it back. Few of them worked.

    And I forgot that the state senator who represented my mom’s district is now facing corruption charges, too.

    The bottom line is that that U.S. Attorney was dead wrong — corruption is the norm up there, not the exception.

    either orr (6713b4)


  38. As for the judges facing civil liability, my understanding is that the courts have already ruled that their judicial immunity from civil suit is absolute, even in these outrageous circumstances.

    Well, THAT is pretty close to inexcusable. I’d have to say, if that is the case, then they better not hope I wind up on any jury trying anyone who hunts them down and shoots them dead. I’m not going to convict.

    You cannot stand by and allow this kind of absolute miscegenation to occur, and the idea that the judge’s heirs can still be fully “set up” after such an abuse of power is flat out beyond acceptable.


    So the stockholders and everybody who stood to profit from the activities also get to share the pain of disgorging those wrongfully-earned profits, and whatever other consequences are attendant.

    I’m sure there will be a blow-back here on this. I’m simply saying that that’s not the level at which the average stockholder operates or makes decisions. Unless you’re going to claim (prove it, please) some kind of willful negligence on their part as to the actions of their elected officers, the stockholders themselevs should probably not suffer excessively for this kind of abuse of corporate power.

    The individual officers themselves, however, clearly knew what the law was, and equally clearly broke it knowing that. In general, they themselves should not be able to hide under the shield of corporate liability protection. This is not some “grey area” where right and wrong actions are debatable or even mildly questionable. Sometimes there’s a fine line. This was more of an electrified fence.

    That would be a perverse incentive for corporate bosses to look the other way

    In no sense did I suggest that corporate bosses should be able to look the other way. There’s a rather massive difference between an active official of the corporation and a stockholder, especially not one who has enough share.

    IGotBupkis (edf445)

  39. “There’s a rather massive difference between an active official of the corporation and a stockholder…”

    Maybe if we held shareholders accountable there would be less illegal shenanigans like these going on. I have to wonder if they were doing this in PA, are they doing it somewhere else???

    Corporations are only going to behave if someone is looking over their shoulder with a BIG stick.

    You know, like those criminals working on Wall St.

    JEA (9cd3bd)

  40. either orr,

    You’re missing about, oh, 30 some more indictments and convictions there.

    Same as you, I’m from there and have a lot of family there.

    “well, one incident doesn’t prove a culture or trend.”

    In NEPA? Hell, we joke about the culture of corruption up there. I’ve got a kitchy “You know you’re from the valley…” book (Wyoming Valley) and pretty much every entry in the Politics section is about corruption. We’re all just shocked that somebody actually started doing something about it.

    Personally, I think my favorite was when Thom Greco went down. But they’ve all been good.

    Spade (4686a9)

  41. I was thinking about the immunity issue raised by some posters here. Generally, a judge is immune from civil (but not criminal) liability for actions taken while on the bench.

    Here, we have a criminal conviction, however. One of the remedies which a federal court can impose in a criminal case is restitution — ordering a payback of the victims. Usually that is used in financial cases to pay back the defrauded or stolen-from victim.

    I wonder if as part of the criminal sentence the judge in the criminal case can order the immunity waived as a form of restitution. IOW, the restitution order would be to pay whatever damages are determined in the civil case as proximately caused by the malfeasance. Because restitution is a criminal remedy, it is not subject to judicial immunity.

    Anyone know of any cases like this?

    Bored Lawyer (c8f13b)

  42. Generally speaking, stockholders only have the options of buying, holding, or selling stock. They have no say nor oversight on operations. It’s an agency problem that is still unsolved.

    Judges to the contrary, corporations are not real persons, they’re just legal fictions, agents that can exercise some of the rights and privileges of real persons. When a corporation “has committed” a crime, the fiction should be drawn aside and the real people whose actions constituted the crime should be prosecuted. Including all accessories, not excluding those supervisory persons who turned a blind eye when it was their job to stop that sort of thing.

    LarryD (feb78b)

  43. bored

    yeah, i think restitution is very likely. but i wonder if the judge has enough savings to really make much at all.

    Aaron Worthing (e7d72e)


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