“And we stood there, and in 30 seconds he was cuffed and shackled and taken away. And, I mean, that was the worst feeling, seeing him turn and look at me like, you know, “What’s going on?” And there was nothing I can do. That’s frozen into my psyche for the rest of my life, that look that was on his face.” – Sandy Fonzo, mother of Ed Kenzakoski. Ed was sentenced to 30 days in a juvenile boot camp by former Judge Mark Ciavarella on a minor charge of having drug paraphernalia. The experience deeply traumatized Ed, who later committed suicide.
(Luzerne County, PA) – Democracy Now!, an independent news program, did a special investigation the “Kids for Cash” scandal and interviewed two victims and their families.
The Kids for Cash scandal involved two former judges Judge Mark Ciavarella and Senior Judge Michael Conahan, who accepted money (“kickbacks”) from a builder of two private, for-profit youth centers for the detention of juveniles. In return the former Judges imposed harsh sentences on the juvenile brought before their courts to incarcerate them in the detention facilities, and increase the number of residents. The children were not given legal counsel when appearing in court and were quickly found guilty then sentenced to out-of-home placement in juvenile detention facilities, even for minor offenses that usually did not require incarceration.
From 2003 to 2008, the Kids for Cash scheme involved more than 2500 children and involved more than 6000 cases. The United States Attorney alleged that the former judges received $2.6 million in kickbacks.
Ciavarella was convicted in 2011 of racketeering and other charges, and sentenced to 28 years in prison. Conahan, pleaded guilty to racketeering and was sentenced to more than 17 years behind bars.
In 2009, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court vacated the adjudications of all youth who appeared before Ciavarella between 2003-2008, dismissed their cases with prejudice and ordered all of their records expunged.
The victims and their families have also won millions in judgments from the owners of the juvenile detention facilities.