Bribing judges is nothing new, unfortunately, in justice systems all over the world. But here in the United States, we pride ourselves on bearing a higher standard.
Recent news is casting long shadows on some of the top leadership over at the Department of Justice (DOJ). How deep does judicial corruption go?
Ten years ago, the entire nation found out about an evil, covert conspiracy where juvenile delinquents – kids – were sentenced by two judges in cahoots with two private detention center owners. The judges got kickbacks from the businessmen for every underage inmate delivered.
All of this happened in broad daylight – in Pennsylvania. As covered by The Essence of Life:
“The bribery scandal made headlines when Former Luzerne County Judge Mark Ciavarella Jr. was alleged to have taken $1 million in bribes from juvenile detention centers to fill their cells with children who came before him in court.”
Mark Ciavarella, Jr.
The public first became aware of this story in 2007, after parents in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania began to complain that their children had been sent to private, for-profit “youth centers” with no legal representation. This is a patent denial of due process.
It turned out that not only President Judge Mark Ciavarella (a juvenile court judge from 1996 to 2008) and Senior Judge Michael Conahan (President Judge from 2003 to 2007), were convicted of accepting money from Robert Powell and Robert Mericle, who built two private, for-profit juvenile detention centers. In return, the judges made contracts with the facilities, and filled them up by imposing harsh sentences on juveniles brought before their courts.
It didn’t take much misbehaving for Judge Mark to send a kid for an extended stay in either PA Child Care in Pittston Township or its sister company Western PA Child Care in Butler County, the two private “correctional facilities.” The New York Post listed three actual cases which were profiled in a 2013 documentary movie titled “Kids for Cash:”
- Hillary Transue, 14, created a fake, humorous Myspace page about her school’s vice principal.
- Justin Bodnar, 12, cursed at another student’s mother.
- Ed Kenzakoski, 17, did nothing at all.
Once the parents and offending offspring arrived in court, police persuaded – and, according to one parent, coerced – to waive their right to legal counsel. The trap was set. Once before Ciavarella, a judgment of guilty was followed by swift shackling – yes, you read that right – and sentenced to go live among other criminals in squalorous conditions.
PA Child Care Youth Detention Center
Not only did these “juvies” miss most or all of their high school experience and education, some of them learned how to be better criminals from their older and wise peers. One of them, Ed Kenzakiski, committed suicide after his release.
Citizens of Luzerne County, Pennsylvania were outraged – and rightly so. Thousands of families had been torn apart and lives ruined, by four greedy men.
NBC News brought some comfort to the nation with this announcement:
“Ciavarella was convicted in 2011 of racketeering and other charges, and sentenced to 28 years in prison. Conahan, a friend of Powell’s who oversaw the scam, pleaded guilty to racketeering and was sentenced to more than 17 years behind bars. A fourth conspirator, developer Robert Mericle, pleaded guilty for his part in the plot and was sentenced to a year in prison.”
Powell actually served 18 months in prison for his part in this wicked felony. He also paid out A federal judge approved a private family settlement wherein Powell paid $4.75 million.
A total of 2,500 kids’ lives were changed forever, and not for the better. Upon learning of the four conspirators’ sentences, Sandy Fonzo of Wilkes-Barre, Ed Kenzakiski’s mother, said:
“How do you put a price on the kids’ constitutional rights, on being removed from their communities and taken from their schools and everything else they suffered?”
Sandy Fonzo of Wilkes-Barre, PA, mother of suicide victim Ed Kenzakiski
This is a very good question.
Another disturbing fact comes from Wikipedia:
“The Pennsylvania state Judicial Conduct Board received four complaints about Conahan between 2004 and 2008, but later admitted it failed to investigate any of them, nor had it sought documentation regarding the cases involved.”
Do these failures – not only to serve the best interests of ordinary citizens, but merely to do the jobs they’re paid to do – point to a lazy and uncaring American judiciary? You decide.
The only positives that came from this travesty of justice are that the Pennsylvania supreme court overturned around 4,000 of Judge Mark Ciavarella Jr’s convictions (as reported by The Guardian) and people began to look more closely at the American judicial system, especially where kids are concerned.
Still, the jury is still out if this was an isolated incident or representative of who knows how many other racketeering judges partnering with private prisons to get rich quick, at the expense and blatant disregard of citizens’ rights?
Only last year, in Kentucky, an 81-year-old Social Security judge named David B. Daugherty was sentenced to a four-year prison term ” for taking more than $600,000 in bribes during the largest fraud in the history of the Social Security program.”
We the People deserve better treatment and regard from our Justice System. Speak up and let your local representatives know that anyone participating in judiciary corruption is the lowest form of pond scum. Keep draining the swamp!