A Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania judged featured in Michael Moore’s 2009 documentary Capitalism: A Love Story has been found guilty of 12 of 39 criminal counts stemming from his involvement in what has become known as the “Kids For Cash” scandal. A jury found Mark Ciavarella guilty on counts of racketeering, money laundering, mail fraud, filling a false tax return as well as related conspiracy charges. The 12 person panel returned a not guilty verdict on the bribery and extortion charges that the former judge faced.
Ciavarella presided as a judge in the Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas and was accused of taking illegal payments from Robert Mericle, the real estate developer of a privately run juvenile detention center PA Child Care and Robert Powellm a co-owner of the facility. The result was hundreds of youths being unfairly imprisoned and millions of county tax dollars being funneled to the owners of the facility.
Moore featured the Kids For Cash Scandal in Capitalism: A Love Story as one of many examples of how unchecked capitalism can be antithetical to a strong democracy. The segment featured interviews with three of the many teenagers who were shipped off to PA Child Care for some of the mildest infractions.
The various racketeering, money laundering and mail fraud charges all carry maximum sentences of 20 years each. You can read more about the decision and the particulars of the case here.
As a long time resident of Luzerne County, I can say that while we have had our fair share of local government corruption scandals over the years, this was the one that turned my stomach the most. That someone would treat children as chattel for their own personal gain in this day and age is abhorrent and his actions struck me as about a half-step away from human trafficking. His continued smug behavior in the local media has done nothing to engender himself with a majority of those following the case.
As if that wasn’t enough, while rewatching Capitalism: A Love Story earlier this week, my girlfriend told me something about the disgraced judge that plunged my opinion of him even lower. A few years back, before the scandal broke, Ciavarella spoke at her high school, giving some sort of a version of a “Scared Straight” type lecture, where he bragged that he had sent so many students from that high school to juvenile detention that he was thinking of having his bench painted in the school’s colors. (In the interests of full disclosure, I should note that my girlfriend also knew one of the three teens interviewed for the segment.) While I understand the desire for schools to bring a lecturer in to give students the obligatory “stay out of legal trouble” speech now and then, having that speaker take pride and a bit of joy in how he would just sling kids into prison strikes me as an arrogant way to do it. He strikes me as someone who has no regard for anyone but himself. I’m hoping he is going to be going away for a long time.