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One 'Kids for Cash' Ex-Judge Pleads Guilty

By Jason Beahm on July 26, 2010 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Kids for Cash.

It's a startling case of the worst kind of judicial corruption -- a story that sounds more fitting for a movie script than for reality. A Pennsylvania judge is facing up to 20 years after pleading guilty to a racketeering and conspiracy charge. Michael Conahan admitted to participating in a kickback operation that put juvenile defendants in prison for minor offenses.

Prosecutors allege that Conahan and Mark Ciavarella Jr. conspired in the Kids for Cash scam and took $2.8 million in kickbacks from privately run juvenile detention centers. Further they claim the pair arranged for the county-owned juvenile facility to be shut down so they could keep the the privately run facility at capacity. Ciavarella has maintained his innocence and plans to contest his charges at trial.

Michael Conahan and Mark Ciavarella were indicted and the accusations of the prosecution were startling. Ciavarella allegedly regularly denied children legal counsel, had them shackled, and removed them from their homes during short hearings. Many of the cases involved exceedingly minor misdemeanor crimes, including stealing change and failure to appear as a witness. Over two dozen additional people were indicted for participating in the scheme, including a court administrator and a school superintendent.

In response to the behavior of the judges, the state Supreme Court reversed thousands of juvenile convictions wgich were decided during their tenure. The court ruled that they showed "complete disregard for the constitutional rights of the juveniles." Both had already tried to plead guilty, the Associated Press reports. Under an earlier plea agreement, they would have served 87 months by pleading guilty to honest services fraud as well as tax evasion. However, Senior U.S. District Judge Edward M. Kosik nixed the deal. He found that the pair failed to fully accept responsibility and ruled to deal too lenient.

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