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Sunday, June 23, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Corrupt Judges Face Class Actions From Children They Sentenced to Private Prison

SCRANTON, Pa. (CN) - The two state judges who pleaded guilty last week to taking $2.6 million in kickbacks for sending youth offenders to privately run detention centers face two federal RICO class actions from hundreds of children and parents who say they were victimized by the corruption.

Luzerne County Judges Mark A. Ciavarella Jr. and Michael T. Conahan admitted they took the payoffs to put juvenile offenders in detention centers run by PA Child Care and its affiliate Western PA Child Care.

Ciavarella and Conahan were charged on Jan. 26. The state Supreme Court removed them from the bench two days later. The judges pleaded guilty to federal charges on Feb. 12.

In one of the new class actions, lead plaintiff Florence Wallace says her 14-year-old daughter was taken from Ciavarella's courtroom in shackles in a case involving alleged threats on MySpace, and sent to a PA Child Care camp.

Parents claim the judges' corruption caused their children to be wrongfully imprisoned, and some say their wages were garnished or Social Security benefits seized to pay for it.

Plaintiffs in one class action also sued 15 defendants, including attorney Robert Powell, a former co-owner of PA Child Care and Western PA Child Care, and Robert Mericle, who owns a major construction firm that built the children's prisons.

The Associated Press reported that Powell told the news service through his attorney that he was a victim of extortion.

Lead counsel for plaintiffs in one class action is Michael Ceffalo of West Pittston, Pa.

Lead attorney in the other class action is Barry Dyller of Wilkes-Barre.

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