Former Luzerne County (Pennsylvania) Judge Mark Ciavarella has been spending his time doing odd jobs for a car towing service while he awaited sentencing since being found guilty on felony corruption charges. Well his painting days are over and 61 year old judge is heading to federal prison for 28 years…a life sentence.
His sentencing brings to closure a dark time in the history of the city of Wilkes-Barre, PA, which is in Luzerne County. He was found guilty back in February of racketeering for taking a $1 million kickback from the builder of for-profit prisons for juveniles. Ciavarella who left the bench over two years ago after he and another judge, Michael Conahan, were accused of sentencing youngsters to prisons they had a hand in building. Prosecutors alleged that Conahan, who pleaded guilty last year and is awaiting sentencing, and Ciavarella received kick-backs from the private company that built and maintained the new youth detention facility that replaced the older county-run center.
Ciavarella, who presided over juvenile court, sent kids to juvenile detention for crimes such as possession of drug paraphernalia, stealing a jar of nutmeg and posting web page spoofs about an assistant principal (3 months of hard time). Some of those sentenced were as young as 10 years old. A mother of one of those sentenced by judge Caivarella lashed out at him after the guilty verdict. Sandy Fonzo’s son, Edward, was a promising young athlete in high school when at the age of 17 he found himself in front of judge Caivarella for possession of drug paraphernalia. With no prior convictions, the judge sentenced Edward to months in private prisons and a wilderness camp…he missed his entire senior year in high school. Edward never recovered from the experience according to his mother and in June 2010 he took his own life at the age of 23.
Ciavarella acknowledged in a recent interview with a Wilkes-Barre investigative reporter (Joe Holden of WBRE) that he made mistakes relating to not filing accurate tax returns but that he never sentenced a child to prison when it was not warranted. Ciavarella, who testified in his own defense at trial, said as much to the jury….and the jury did not buy it.
Ciavarella is married and has three grown children, additional victims of his crimes. However, I feel for the victims whose lives were forever changed by the misguided sentences handed out by judge Ciavarella. This is a sad day for the justice system but it is refreshing to see the right person going to jail this time.