United States v. Ciavarella, No. 11-3277 (3d Cir. 2013)Annotate this Case
Ciavarella and another state court judge, Conahan, received $2.8 million in three years from a commercial builder, Mericle, and an attorney and businessman, Powell, during the “Kids for Cash” scandal in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania . Ciavarella committed hundreds of juveniles to detention centers co-owned by Powell, including many who were not represented by counsel, without informing the juveniles or their families of his conflict of interest. The judges, aware that they were under investigation, met with Mericle and Powell to coordinate their stories in 2008. Powell was wearing a recording device, exposing the judges’ efforts to obstruct justice. The judges pled guilty to wire fraud and conspiracy in exchange for an agreed 87-month sentence. Noting that the stipulated sentences were significantly lower than the advisory Sentencing Guidelines for the offenses, the district court rejected the plea agreement; the judges withdrew their pleas. Ciavarella proceeded to trial, was convicted of racketeering, honest services mail fraud, money laundering conspiracy, filing false tax returns, and several other related crimes and was sentenced to 336 months’ imprisonment, restitution, forfeiture, and a special assessment. The Third Circuit remanded for modification of the special assessment for mail fraud, but otherwise affirmed, rejecting an argument that the trial judge was biased.