NUANGOLA — It has been five years since something nicknamed the Kids for Cash Scandal broke in Luzerne County, ultimately sending two Luzerne County judges to federal prison for a long time.
Newswatch 16 spoke with a family whose farm was damaged by juveniles who set fire to their property but had their criminal records expunged because of what happened to the judges.
Linda Ebert and her son William say they saw their family’s dream of running a farm go up in flames. That dream burned to the ground in 2005 when the barn near Nuangola was destroyed. The fire was so large it also burned the roof off her house as well as a granary. And the blaze claimed hundreds of thousands of dollars of farm equipment stored in the barn.
“Over the years we had purchased a combine, a bailer, a corn picker. It was all in new condition because we had housed it,” Ebert said.
Police arrested two juveniles for the arson. They were sent away to a detention center by Luzerne County Judge Mark Ciavarella and ordered to pay restitution to the Eberts.
“According to me he did everything he was supposed to. He asked them where their lawyer was. Children and Youth said they didn’t want a lawyer because the children were going to plead guilty and they admitted that they had done it,” said Ebert.
But then after the corruption fall out sent Ciavarella and fellow Luzerne County Judge Michael Conahan to federal prison, the state supreme court vacated Ciavarella’s rulings against more than 6,000 juveniles.
That included the two in Ebert’s case who then no longer owed her restitution. Those 6,000 juveniles are being compensated for being detained.
“Supreme court says ‘oh, we’re going to throw everything out and now the kids get a settlement.’ I lost a barn, my family lost a barn. We lost something that we loved to do and they’re getting paid to burn down a barn,” said William Ebert.
The Eberts received $6,000 in state restitution and got a $10,000 settlement from the juveniles’ families. Some of that money was used to pay legal bills. They say the rest doesn’t come close to replacing what was lost.
“$400,000 for a brand new combine or $200,000 for a tractor or bailers or all these other implements,” said William Ebert.
Still, Linda and her family have continued to slowly put their dream back together and are attempting to farm their land.