Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Pa. Judge Took Millions In Private Juvy Jail Scheme

Scranton - County Judge Mark Ciavarella, 61, helped railroad juvenile offenders accused of minor offenses to a private detention facility in exchange for $2.8 million.

Jurors heard a federal prosecutor characterize the alleged criminal scheme in closing argument today. Assistant U.S. Attorney Gordon Zubrod said, “You can't take money for doing your job,” as he outlined the way the scam worked.

The judge is accused of extorting money from a developer and co-owner of the privately-run jail, then falsifying state-mandated financial disclosure forms and tax returns while attempting to launder the money by calling his personal share of $480,000 “finder's fees” he collected while trying to get a new juvenile jail built to replace an aging county facility.

In contrast, defense attorney Al Flora told the jurors that though the judge admitted taking the money and failing to disclose the income or pay taxes on it, he was merely doing it because it would “look bad” to taxpayers.

He received $590,000 over a period of 7 months in rental payments from jail developer and co-owner Bob Powell for a Florida condominium he owns.

Parents of juvenile offenders jailed for such petty offenses as throwing food at a mother's boyfriend, breaking curfew, or minor in possession of alcohol have testified before state panels investing corruption. One mother told of her son being whisked away to a privately-run "boot camp" for 48 days and being furnished only with a "Post-It" note inscribed with "Dolores" and a phone number.

Another father, who testified anonymously out of fear for his life and his son's, said that even though his child was represented by an attorney, Judge Ciavarella would not let the man talk about the case or elicit testimony from witnesses. He spoke over him and overruled all his objections, effectively silencing counsel.

Judge Ciavarella pleaded guilty to a similar charge dubbed by the local press as the "cash for kids" scam in state court in 2009, effectively nullifying the cases against more than 50 youthful offenders. He Luzerne County District Attorney has declined to re-file the cases and seek prosecution of the alleged offenders for the second time.

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