By Dave Warner
PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - A former Pennsylvania juvenile court judge was sentenced on Thursday to 28 years in prison for accepting payment to send juveniles to a for-profit detention facility in a scandal dubbed "kids for cash,".
Former Luzerne County Juvenile Court Judge Mark Ciavarella, 61, accepted nearly $1 million from a developer who built the detention facility, prosecutors said.
Under the "kids for cash" scheme, thousands of juveniles were shipped to the private center on minor or questionable charges by Ciavarella and another former judge, Michael Conahan, according to juvenile advocates.
"Mr. Ciavarella abused his position of trust and inflicted a deep and lasting wound on the community he vowed to service," U.S. Attorney Peter Smith said following the sentencing.
"The scheme involved a corrupt agreement with the operators of the for-profit juvenile facilities," Smith said. "It was a wholesale arrangement in which the judges concealed their interest and thereby did great damage to the public."
The U.S. Attorney's office called the case the "largest and most sustained political corruption inquiry" in the area.
Ciavarella was convicted in February of 12 charges, including racketeering conspiracy and money laundering.
During the trial, Ciavarella testified that the money he received from Robert Mericle, the facility's developer, amounted to "finder fees" and had no connection to the fact that he was a sentencing judge.
Al Flora, Ciavarella's attorney, said he would appeal.
Conahan, formerly the president judge of the Luzerne County court, has pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy and is awaiting sentencing.
Prosecutors said Conahan closed the publicly owned Luzerne County Juvenile Detention Facility and helped arrange financing for the private facility.
Both former judges obstructed efforts to investigate the county's use of the private facility and also their financial relationships with Mericle and Robert Powell, the owner of the juvenile center, prosecutors said.
The U.S. Attorney's office said more than 30 local and state government officials and contractors have been convicted or are awaiting trial in the case.
(Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Cynthia Johnston)