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Kids for Cash: The Judges

WILKES-BARRE — It has been five years since federal prosecutors dropped a bombshell accusing two Luzerne County judges of taking kickbacks.

It was a scandal that rocked not only our area but the nation.

“This is a sad event when individuals who took an oath violate that oath and violate the law.”

It was an announcement that sent shock waves through northeastern Pennsylvania: two longtime Luzerne County judges accused of pocketing kickbacks in connection with a juvenile detention center.

Those judges – Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan – initially agreed to plead guilty to honest services fraud and tax evasion.

Later, that plea was rejected by a judge.

Conahan pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy.

Ciavarella was convicted after a trial on charges including racketeering, and mail fraud.

“I’m Mark’s friend and he’s somebody who I thought of as very intelligent and gave me very good legal advice and very good personal advice and I guess I just thought the whole thing with the money was so creepy, you know? That bothered me, that he had clearly taken money and tried to hide it and it just seemed so uncharacteristic of him,” said Ciavarella’s friend Kevin Lynn.

Lynn has known Mark Ciavarella for years. Lynn says when the news broke in late January of 2009, he was sad, but not shocked.

“I wasn’t surprised. I knew that something was happening. I knew that there was something percolating beneath the surface, but of course the day I got the call, I got a call from Mark, which I still have on my phone, and I was just heartbroken, of course.”

At the White House Diner in Forty Fort, owner Mark Hession spent the day talking with customers about the scandal. In fact, he says it’s still a topic of conversation.

“It was a lot of chatter, did they or didn’t they? And we know some of the people who were involved. We have people who come in here who were friends and a friend of a friend no matter what, But yeah, you wish things were different,” Hession said.

Al Flora was one of Mark Ciavarella’s defense attorneys. He was involved in negotiations before the charges were ever announced.

Flora says at the time, he had no idea how controversial the case was going to be.

“The day of the plea, that was chaotic.  I remember going to the courtroom, the media were all over the place, and at that point in time, the media were expecting that something was going to happen soon. Ciavarella was fairly calm, I can tell you that. I think he wanted to get the matter behind him.”

The people we spoke with all agree on one thing: that day those judges were charged forever changed things in Luzerne County.

14 comments

  • jenniferlynn329

    In Scranton, rotten kids need to go to jail here! Just found car broken into, second time in 6mo. Fourth time in 2yrs. And just because they “only get caught once” doesn’t mean that they don’t DESERVE being jailed for months or even years for all the things that no one CAUGHT them doing. Rotten is rotten, and rotten is why they’re in jail. Hope that they learned their lessons! And the next one I will catch on video, and I will pursue the MAXIMUM sentencing because I’m 100% sure they deserve to be in jail. I’m sick of the scum stealing from me! (Although Ciavarello may not have done it the most legal of ways, he sure as heck set some of those idiotic kids straight! Part of me wants to applaud him!!!)

  • Franz Grueter

    Keep the death penalty. But these two deserve an absolute public hanging. If this case is not a wake up call for the average Joe, down here in the real world, then what is? Folks wake up! most of our judges are corrupt, just look at the nine sacks of flesh in the Supreme Court.

  • Richard Brent

    Someone needs to check into some of the things going on with the snyder county court house. There is to many things to list they have done. Its funny when a person that works in the court house tells you they can’t do what they are doing and tries to talk you into going after them. I asked why can’t they do something and they say they can’t because conflict because they work there. I have tried to do what I could but they lie their way out of it. Now if I had money to hire a attorney and pay to get transcripts I might get some where. They have caused so much hurt and pain to my family and I can’t do anything.

  • Icky!

    Kevin Lynn should be ashamed of himself! “Icky” really that is the word you chose to describe what happened to all of those kids! And who keeps a phone call or text on their phone for five years?? Someone is a bit insecure!!!!! Your big claim to fame is a guy in prison. That is icky!

    • jay

      ….but Kevin (I know all and are associated with all things famous) Lynn didn’t know…….right! and I’ll believe that the day Kevin goes to work for the natural gas industry. Oh, wait a minute, Kevin does work for the natural gas industry AND he probably is best friends with the guy who started it all.
      save a phone message for 5 years?! something is so wrong with that on so many levels….that in itself is “icky”

  • luvshorses

    Kids for cash… title says it all. Money rules some people’s lives, minds, souls. Greed settles in and common sense, compassion, honesty, law, everything/everyone becomes disposable, dispensable when our need exceeds our own ability to achieve those lusted after things… fame, money, big houses, luxury cars. When I first moved here I was told this was the Valley with the Heart… people that believed that should be saddened to the bone – there is no heart when all you read about is corruption, embezzlement, theft, selling your soul for the God of Currency and what that buys. I would love to see that these people get exactly what our forefathers tried to set out to see would happen when people do not follow the law, but I am becoming dis-enheartened by the ads on the tv by the lawyers telling everyone how to get rich quick for all their troubles, pretty soon we will be suing our parents for our woes because of heredity or maybe one day we will be able to sue our creator (never put it past the law to find a way to do that because after all, they are in that same mode.. money, money, money).

    • e

      “Valley with the Heart” Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!!! luvshorses I am not laughing at you, I would like to know what ignorant person actually said that!! That is hilarious!!!! How can somebody be that naive to believe nonsense like that. Valley with an alcohol problem is more like it. LOL

  • jay

    Kevin’s hand on his heart really got to me. I think I remember Kevin being interviewed before he played Billie Jean King and talking about corruption in Luzerne County. Or was that when he started ESPN? Can’t remember. Maybe it was wen he was on the Today Show.

  • William Giordano

    lackawanna is doing it also, they charge kids with no evidence and even find them guilty without it. that put officers in schools for the safety of the kids they say but an officer attacked my deaf son and falsely accused him of a crime witch he was convicted without any evidence. i dont see any of you saying anything about the abuse of power from the SCRANTON police department.

  • Mike O'Hara

    The only darker episode in this region’s history appears to be the “Airport for Cash” scandal. It enabled cronies and handlers of the late congressman Dan Flood to funnel huge amounts of money is his direction so he could manipulate Washington into naming our local Avoca airport backwards.

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