Corruption

Dividends From the Pennsylvania Railroad

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Two Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, judges who were recently accused of sending defendants to privately run juvenile detention centers in exchange for bribes will serve seven years in federal prison under a plea agreement. Judges Mark Ciavarella (left) and Michael Conahan, who allegedly received $2.6 million for their help in keeping the juvenile jails full, will plead guilty to tax evasion and honest services fraud. An editorial in The Philadelphia Inquirer suggests  their real crimes were a lot worse than that (emphasis added): 

First, the judges helped the detention centers land a county contract worth $58 million. Then their alleged scheme was to guarantee the operators a steady income by detaining juveniles, often on petty stuff.

Many of the kids were railroaded, according to allegations lodged with the state Supreme Court last year by the Philadelphia-based Juvenile Law Center, an advocacy group.

In asking the court to intervene in April, the law center cited hundreds of examples where teens accused of minor mischief were pressured to waive their right to lawyers, and then shipped to a detention center.

One teen was given a 90-day sentence for having parodied a school administrator online. Such unwarranted detentions left "both children and parents feeling bewildered, violated and traumatized," center lawyers said.

I grew up in Wilkes-Barre and used to cover Luzerne County's government for The Times Leader, so I'm not surprised at the venality of local officials there, but Ciavarella and Conahan have taken it to a whole new level. Disappointingly, they do not have Dan Flood–style waxed moustaches to twirl as they gleefully send errant orphans off to jail in exchange for big bags of money marked with dollar signs.

Information about the Juvenile Law Center's efforts on behalf of the judges' victims here.

[Thanks to Tom Hynes for the tip.]

NEXT: The New Era of Irresponsibility

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  1. I have unfortunately come to the conclusion that it is never okay for the government (or anyone) to lock people up, because they get it wrong way more often than they get it right… and it’s no surprise why: cases like this demonstrate that there is a strong incentive to get it wrong.

    IMO, if someone does something wrong enough that they should be removed from society, exile them rather than locking them up. If that means they have no place to go, stuff them on a “prison” island in the middle of the Pacific but with no restriction that they can’t leave if they can find a place to go. This “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” solution seems much more just than what currently exists.

    Insert rest of rant about the monopoly on justice here.

  2. Hanging…… the new censure.

  3. Seven years?

    All they get is seven years?!

    When “What about the children?” really should matter, all these bastards get is seven years?!

  4. These guys should be sentenced to jail for an amount of time equal to all the sentences they doled out for bribes. Seven years is too little. But they are part of the system, so they caught a break.

  5. This is…

    Astonishing. Disgusting.

    I am literlly nauseous reading this article. I am against the death penalty, but these fuckers really deserve to be fried (let’s call it the Tyrannicide Exception).

    How could one sleep at night when they imprison innocent people for money? If I lived in this area, I would be organizing a lynch mob for these fuckers.

    We need to make good on Jefferson’s proposal for an armed rebellion every 20 years. Anything less, at this point, would make one an accomplice…

  6. I hope they get raped by a pelican.

  7. Life seems more appropriate.I’d suggest something far worse, something “cruel and unusual” by Medieval standards.FWIW, the judges were Democrats.

  8. Imagine if some random guy went around kidnapping kids and locking them in his basement in cages. Not sexually abusing them or anything but just locking them up and then making them do some kind of work for him that made him money. How many years would that guy get? Even in a softie liberal state the terms would be consectutive and they would be spelled L.I.F.E.

    That is functionally what these bastards did. If anything, they were worse because they used the power of the state to do it. At least if these kids had been kidnapped by a random pervert, they wouldn’t have criminal records. Reasons why I guess I will never get that Federal District Court appointment. I would have made sure these guys never saw the light of day again.

    One other thing, these guys are no worse than many people in the rehab industry. Those people spend their lives convincing parents that every misbehaving kid has a drug problem and needs to be locked up in rehab only to be magically cured and released as soon as the insurance money runs out. There are some real sick fucks out there.

  9. I’m so impressed with the commenters complaining about the short sentence. I’m getting too cynical, I was astonished these guys are even getting jail time. I just assumed they would walk, or, you know, be commended for beating it into the children or something.

  10. Shouldn’t stories like this cause the Reason Foundation to reconsider its support for so-called “private” prisons (that are built with taxpayer dollars and house prisoners forcibly deprived of their liberties by government agents…)?

    See here: http://www.reason.org/corrections/

  11. Greedy, heartless bastards abuse children for money, huh?

    I’m with nicole, I’m surprised they even got jail time.

  12. Yes, there are downsides to privitization and contracting out after all. Who knew???

  13. Unfortunately this is yet another example of Luzern County and NE PA corruption. This area is a microcosm of what happens when government is allowed to dictate where large sums of taxpayer money are spent. There is typically a lack of any true competition for contracts or any oversight on how money is spent. There were a slew of reports of misuse of county funding at the big boy jail as well as in other areas of government.

    I expect that the reaction to this type of abuse of power will be more government to oversee, watch, and regulate these transactions in the future.

    I was saddened that many in the area were more angered at who paid the judges than the judges themselves. Both are unscrupulous, but the Judges are supposed to represent the people that elected them, while the companies building the jail are expected to act in their own self interests.

  14. Good thing that everyone who works at government run prisons are kindly souls who accept no pay at all for what they do.

  15. The seven year sentence is too light but consider a couple of things. First, since these guys are judges they are going to do the entire seven years in administrative segregation with all of the other cops and sex perverts. No way could the feds let them out into the population even in a minimum security club fed. That means they won’t be able to have much of a job and will spend a lot of time in their cells fearing for their lives. Second, I am sure the judge hit them with a fine and required them to make restitution equal to the money they stole. Now no one ever saves stolen money. There is something about stolen money that makes you want to blow it on stupid shit you don’t need. I would be very surprised if these guys have a penny of it left. Restitution and fines can never be waived or escaped in bankruptcy. Basically these guys will never own anything for the rest of their lives and will die in debt to the feds. Yeah, they are scum, but make no mistake, their lives suck right now.

  16. Two … judges … will serve seven years in federal prison under a plea agreement.

    That wouldn’t be a federal pound-me-in-the-ass prison by any chance?

  17. bah! stupid tag

  18. This why prison “privatisation” is a bad idea. Any privatisation where demand remains public and only supply is private won’t work (see prisons, blackwater, etc.).

  19. Sorry for using the word public, should have written demand from government.

  20. Mark Ciavarella spent most of his blood money on a swank vacation house in Florida. Unfortunately it’s in another state and may be hard to confiscate and liquidate without Fed assistance.

    Actually confiscate and liquidate was my initial reaction for both judges.

  21. Timeloose,

    OJ Simpson moved to Florida because a private residence cannot be seized to pay off settlements.

  22. Well said, Ken Shultz @ 12:46 PM.

    John @ 1:06 PM, this is just the beginning for Ciavarella and Conahan. They are now open to civil lawsuits from the victims, where the burden of proof is much lower, and all the evidence from their criminal trials is considered to be established fact. If the sentencing judge didn’t fine them into poverty, it was probably only to leave assets which their victims could recover.

  23. “OJ Simpson moved to Florida because a private residence cannot be seized to pay off settlements.”

    He did that to get out of the civil judgment. Remember OJ never had a criminal conviction for killing Golman and Nicole Simpson. These guys in contrast have a criminal conviction. I would be very surprised if a huge amount of restitution and or fines isn’t a part of the plea deal. You can’t use state bankruptcy laws to get you out of criminal fines and restitution. The feds will pretty much take everything these clowns own. Sadly, their victims won’t get anything beyond the satisfaction of knowing these guys are broke.

  24. Ah, good point John.

  25. That is true tonio. Also, I don’t think you can get out of civl judgements for intentional torts in bankruptcy. At best they could sheild under a favorable state homestead law. They are screwed.

  26. So how many folks are in “public” prisons because of pressure from the corrections officers unions?

  27. John @ 1:20: There are no state bankruptcy laws. Bankruptcy is adjudicated by federal courts under federal law.

    If they are sued in federal court, I believe that state laws, ie Florida’s, would not shield their assets from seizure. IANAL.

    Eryk?

  28. FWIW, the judges were Democrats.

    The judges’ political part affiliation is easy to figure out. If an article about the nefarious acts of an elected official does not mention the political part affiliation of that official, then the elected official is a Democrat.

    It is a rule of English, just like, “i” before “e”, except after…

  29. I don’t see this as particularly damning of the idea of privately run prisons, any criminal justice system requires fairness from the people who are meting out justice. …but that just isn’t always the case.

    I see it like robbery. There’s nothing we can do that will completely eliminate robberies. There’s nothing we can do to completely eliminate the possibility of prisoner abuse by guards either. All we can do is rain down vengeance on the heads of criminal guards and criminal judges when they get caught at something like this…

    …which the system appears to have failed to do in this case. If these judges railroaded innocent kids to jail, then what they’ve done almost amounts to treason in my book. If that’s what they did, then we should make an example of them–they should spend the rest of their lives in jail.

    But I don’t see any reason to blame private enterprise for what criminals do. To me, that seems like saying we shouldn’t let people invest their money in public companies because it encourages fraud and ponzi scams. Fraud and ponzi scams will always be with us–that shouldn’t prevent people from doing the smart thing.

  30. “John @ 1:20: There are no state bankruptcy laws. Bankruptcy is adjudicated by federal courts under federal law.”

    True. But there are state homestead laws that the fed bankruptcy laws look to. You can shield more value of your primary home in some states than in others.

  31. The whole private/public ownership aspect of this case is not the critical point. Allot of the cabbage provided came from the construction company that built the prison. This company has close ties to both men. Collusion of government along with private companies is possible only when there is a lack of a true competition and competitive bidding for work.

  32. Also, as stated by Sullum above, and in the linked article, the sentences for Ciavarella and Michael Conahan are part of a negotiated plea agreement between the defendent’s lawyers and the US Attorney. The judge could modify this.

    Their court date is next Thursday, Feb 12. Hope Sullum follows up on this after the sentencing.

  33. One teen was given a 90-day sentence for having parodied a school administrator online.

    Juveniles, not having all the constituional rights of grown ups, can be institutionalized on “status offenses.” Hence, something that adults are free to do (like, say, cussing at your mom, smoking, being late for school) can get a kid placed in an instituion.

    I do wonder who had the balls to approach a pair of judges and say “Your honors, I think we found a way to monetize this status offense thing.”

  34. If people on here want to rant and rave about Haliburton’s role in government, they need to at least admit that there is something called the prison industrial complex. A more just criminal justice system would put a lot of people out of work.

  35. One teen was given a 90-day sentence for having parodied a school administrator online.

    Thanks, Abdul. I just threw up a little in my mouth.

    Give that kid a medal, and ninety days worth of the administrator’s salary. He won’t need it since he’ll be serving a ninety day sentence for…something.

  36. corruption right in my neck of the woods, not surprising at all
    http://www.wnep.com/Global/story.asp?s=9731655

  37. If I lived in this area, I would be organizing a lynch mob for these fuckers.

    If they had railroaded my kid, I would be keeping a close eye on whether they had any time on the streets before their sentences began, and when, exactly, they were released.

    So how many folks are in “public” prisons because of pressure from the corrections officers unions?

    Counting minor drug offenses?

  38. Is there anything illegal about a judge, or prosecutor trying to talk you out of a lawyer, or a judge imposing a tough sentence for a crime which guilt was found or admitted? Probably not.

    People are legally railroaded weekly. A prosecutor has wide latitude and many SCOTUS approved shady tools, like deception. Didn’t SCOTUS rule on a case a while ago and said parents don’t have to be present in an interview of a child?

    Just like a cop can arrest you for small crimes because all crimes are arrestable, including running a stop sign.

    I think it stinks, but it’s it’s allowable under law, it’s allowable.

    “”””A more just criminal justice system would put a lot of people out of work.””””

    True, and I have no problem with it.

  39. Shouldn’t stories like this cause the Reason Foundation to reconsider its support for so-called “private” prisons (that are built with taxpayer dollars and house prisoners forcibly deprived of their liberties by government agents…)?
    Dunno about everybody else, but I’ve grown to accept that prisons should be governmantal.

  40. Death penalty if true, IMO.

  41. How about we just completely eliminate prison and jail and avoid bullshit like this altogether? The only sentences allowable should be restitution for the victim and public execution.

    The idea of the state locking people in cages for years is such an absurd notion to me.

  42. How about we just completely eliminate prison and jail and avoid bullshit like this altogether? The only sentences allowable should be restitution for the victim and public execution.

    Old School, eh?

  43. Prison privatization is always a bad idea. Crime and punishment is one area of government that should ALWAYS run at a financial loss; taking a person’s freedom away is a very serious matter, and there should be no financial incentives to encourage this.

  44. will plead guilty to tax evasion and honest services fraud.

    I was about to say we should add on kidnapping (federal charge if the juvi was out of state), obstruction of justice, willful endangerment of a minor, etc….but then I realized they’re not even getting prosecuted for BRIBERY, which indisputably happened here and would not be a stretch of the law.

  45. Jennifer, the problem is, the people losing money on it are the taxpayers, not the people determining what level of punishment to mete out (judges, prosecutors, etc).

  46. How come we are just barely hearing about this now???????

    It was at least last April 2008 that this case intensified.

    These lawyers must be Democrats. Had they been Republicans it would have been all over the media.

    Oh I think I know why this story was suppressed so as not to give Pennsylvania to the Republican Prez candidate.

    November 2008 was a selection not an election. The media and Democrats stole the election.

    Looks like crime is common for Dems – tax evasion and fear mongering to steal taxpayer dollars to bail out an economy that Dems messed up with the mortgages for everyone initiative – Barney Frank, Chris Dodd perpetrated that financial mess. Are they being investigated? Nope they are powerful committee chairmen.

  47. Shara Palin is crazy

  48. Michael Moore included this report in his documentary film, “Capitalism, a Love Story.” He blames **privatization** for this corruption. But he also implies that privatization means capitalism.

    But privatization really isn’t capitalism. It is merely the conversion of a governmental agency into a public-private hybrid. (The “private” company is still receiving public funds.)

    For an enterprise to be truly private, it needs to be independent of government financing.

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