Former Juvenile Judge Likely to Appeal His Stiff Sentence

Former juvenile judge Mark Ciavarella sentenced to 28 years in federal prison.

August 17, 2011, 1:01 PM

SCRANTON, Pa., Aug. 17, 2011— -- Senior U.S. District Court Judge Edwin M. Kosik has sentenced Mark Ciavarella, former president judge of the Court of Common Pleas and former judge of the Juvenile Court for Luzerne County, Pa., to 28 years in federal prison. The federal system offers no parole and Ciavarella, 61, could remain behind bars until he is 89 years old.

In an ongoing corruption scandal that implicated more than 30 state and local government officials and contractors, Ciavarella, in a "kids for cash" scheme, was accused of sentencing juveniles to Pennsylvania Child Care and Western Pennsylvania Child Care detention centers in exchange for cash payments. Ciavarella was convicted of accepting a payment of nearly $1 million from the juvenile detention centers' builder. After the scandal, which broke in 2007, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court vacated the sentences and wiped clean the records of all minors (about 4,000) who appeared before Ciavarella during his tenure as a Juvenile Court judge.

More than 200 people packed into the William J. Nealon Federal Building in Scranton, Pa., last Thursday to witness the sentencing of Ciavarella. Following an 11-day trial in February 2011, Ciavarella was found guilty on 12 of 39 charges, including racketeering, racketeering conspiracy, mail fraud, money laundering conspiracy, conspiracy to defraud the U.S. and filing false tax returns.

Since allegations emerged five years ago, Ciavarella has steadfastly maintained that he never received kickbacks for incarcerating juveniles who appeared before him. In a statement he delivered to the court right before his sentencing, the husband and father of three requested that the government release his entire investigative file to the media and public for review. Ciavarella said, "Let it all become public and allow everyone to judge based upon the evidence amassed against me, if there is any believable evidence that I received money to place juveniles."

In an email to ABC News, the office of Assistant U.S. Attorney Gordon Zubrod, the lead prosecutor,s aid that the U.S. Attorney's Office would not be making the file available. "The file contains statements of other witnesses, Grand Jury documents and other matters not directly related to Mr. Ciavarella that we cannot disclose. We rely on the evidence that was presented at trial," the letter said.

Many of the families of children whom Ciavarella incarcerated saw the sentence as a victory. Droves of parents and some children were present at the courthouse to witness Ciavarella's fate firsthand. "The day was extremely draining," Susan Morgans told ABC News. Morgans' daughter appeared before Ciavarella as a teenager and was sentenced to detention. Although Morgans' daughter is now in her 20s, she still struggles with the effects of her boot camp experience and did not attend the sentencing. "His refusal to accept responsibility evoked a lot of emotions. Many of us were hoping to hear remorse," Morgans said.

The U.S. Attorney's Office echoed the same sentiments. "The sentence that Mr. Ciavarella received was the sentence the government asked for, and we believe it was appropriate given the ruin Mr. Ciavarella brought to the thousands of young people," Zubrod's office conveyed to ABC News.

On the courthouse steps immediately following sentencing, Defense Attorney Al Flora told a group of reporters that the sentence would definitely be appealed. "Federal sentencing guidelines are very difficult, and we knew that going in," Flora said. The defense continued to argue that Ciavarella's attitude all along was that he never accepted a bribe or kickback in exchange for sending a child to a detention facility and that was his driving force for going to trial. "In reality, I think the government was surprised with the 336-month sentence," Flora said. An appeal must be filed with the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia.

Ciavarella surrendered to U.S. Marshalls immediately following sentencing and was escorted to the Federal Detention Center in Philadelphia. He will remain there until the U.S. Bureau of Federal Prisons determines where the one-time judge will serve his sentence.

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