By Daniel Bates
A former judge has been convicted of taking a $1million kickback from the builder of a juvenile jail in the notorious ‘cash for kids’ scandal.
Mark Ciavarella sent hundreds of children and teenagers to the private prison for minor crimes after being given the money by the company which ran it.
Some of the children jailed were as young as 10 and at least one killed themselves because the excessive sentences ruined their lives.
Ciavarella, 61, left the bench in disgrace two years ago after the allegations came to light and is now expected to be jailed for at least 13 years.
But instead of being caged immediately he was allowed to walk out of court – right into a barrage of abuse from the mother of an all-star wrestler who committed suicide after he sent him to jail.
Edward Kenzakoski, 17 was never the same after being jailed for a first-time minor drug offence, his mother Sandy Fonzo raged.
‘Do you remember my son? Do you remember my son? He was an all-star wrestler and he’s gone,’ she screamed.
‘He shot himself in the heart. You scumbag, you ruined my ******* life.
‘I’d like him to go to hell and rot there forever’.
The ‘cash for kids’ investigation has widely been seen as one of the worst cases of judicial malpractice in U.S. history.
Prosecutors said it involved Ciavarella and a second judge, Michael Conahan, 58, using juvenile delinquents as ‘pawns to enrich’ themselves to the tune of $2.3million.
Ciavarella worked in Luzerne County in Pennsylvania where he was known as ‘Mr Zero Tolerance’ for his tough sentencing.
But the court was told there was another reason for his hardness – he has taken nearly $1million from the owners and builders of a privately-run juvenile detention centre.
The court was told the two judges closed the existing youth jail in 2002 and arranged for the construction of the PA Child Care facility near Wilkes-Barre.
Ciavarella, who presided over juvenile court, ensured it was busy by sending hundreds of teenagers and children there, even if they had never been in trouble before.
Some were locked up even after probation officers recommended against it – one teenager was jailed for two years for joyriding with his parents’ car.
The extent of the scandal only became clear afterwards when a court in Pennsylvania dismissed 4,000 cases of his judgements.
Now a jury in Scranton has convicted Ciavarella of 12 counts, including racketeering and conspiracy, and acquitted him of 27 counts.
Conahan has already reached a plea deal in which he will admit to fraud fraud charges and be jailed for 87 months.
He will also resign his judicial position and be disbarred.
Charges have also been brought against nearly 30 officials including a string of court officials, a county judge and former State Sen. Robert Mellow, Democrat, Lackawanna.