The second judge in one of the ugliest scandals in modern Pennsylvania history has been sentenced to 17.5 years in prison for his role in putting young offenders into private detention centers, sometimes over the objections of prosecutors, so he could share in kickbacks from the builder of the detention facilities.
Michael Conahan, a former jurist in Luzerne County, was sentenced on Friday to 210 months in custody by Senior U.S. District Court Judge Edwin M. Kosik II. Conahan was also ordered to pay $874,000 in restitution.
Assistant U.S. Attorney William Houser of the Middle District of Pennsylvania said Conahan “abused his power to enrich himself along with his friend Mark Ciavarella,” the Wall Street Journal Law Blog reported. “The judicial system in Pennsylvania was shaken to its very foundation.”
As Main Justice reported in August, Ciavarella, former president judge of the Court of Common Pleas and former judge of the Juvenile Court for Luzerne County, was sentenced to 28 years in prison and ordered to make restitution of $965,930.
Conahan had pleaded guilty to racketeering charges. Ciavarella chose to go to trial and was found guilty on a dozen counts of money laundering and conspiracy.
Conahan’s role in the “cash for kids” scheme was to order the closing of a county-run detention center, clearing the way for Ciavarella, once known as a strict “law and order” judge, to send young offenders to private facilities. This arrangement worked out well for Ciavarella and Conahan, as well as the builder of the facilities and a developer, who pleaded guilty to lesser charges.
The arrangement didn’t work out so well for the young offenders, some of them sent away for offenses that were little more than pranks and would have merited probation, or perhaps just scoldings, if the judges had tried to live up to their oaths.
Conahan, 59, was troubled by abuse as a child and more recent problems with alcohol, his lawyer said, adding that his client suffered from “insidious feelings of insecurity and inadequacy.”
The lawyer didn’t say so, but such feelings are what plague many adolescents, like some of those sent away by the actions of the corrupt judges. The records of the young offenders were erased after the scandal came to light. Their collective disillusionment with the legal system will doubtless take longer to erase.