News and Press Releases

Statement by United States Attorney Peter J. Smith after the Sentencing of Former Judge Mark A. Ciavarella

August 11, 2011

     Mark Ciavarella abused his position of trust and inflicted a deep lasting wound on the community he swore an oath to serve.

     He took money secretly from those who stood to benefit from his daily actions as a judge. He had a corrupt, self serving relationship with another judge, Michael Conahan. Both of them used deceit, bluster, bullying and a web of lies to conceal their misconduct. We saw the evidence of that corrupt relationship at trial and saw it directly in the testimony and attitude of Ciavarella inside and outside of the courtroom.

     The sentence of the court today was fair and just and in accordance with the law and the federal sentencing guidelines. Those guidelines properly gave weight to all relevant conduct, to the harm done by the defendant's criminal activities and his acceptance of responsibility or lack of it. A few words are appropriate in regard to the interconnection between the relevant conduct, the charges and the impact of that conduct on individual juveniles and their families.

     To the individuals, their families and the public, we say that your concerns were not ignored in the investigation, the prosecution or the sentencing. We read your letters. We saw the findings of the State Interbranch Commission and the many articles in the media. If any extra effort was required on behalf of the prosecutors, those stories provided it.

     The juvenile justice system in Pennsylvania is the responsibility of the state. We cannot decide, or conduct new hearings in, state court juvenile cases in the federal system, and especially in a federal criminal trial on federal charges of racketeering, bribery, extortion, fraud and tax charges.

     There was no evidence of money paid for each individual juvenile sent to a facility in which Powell and Mericle had an interest. However, those for-profit facilities benefitted substantially from the actions of Conahan and Ciavarella as judges. Therefore, the evidence and the government's case focused on the corrupt relationship and the lies, deceit and evasions that were used to keep their relationship a secret and to use the relationship to enrich Conahan and Ciavarella.

     Ciavarella's rigid and questionable practices in juvenile court fit the scheme and the corrupt relationship like a hand in a glove. In that sense, it was kids for cash, not in every individual case, but in enough cases overall to help Conahan and Ciavarella benefit from the scheme.

     In a sense, everyone involved in juvenile justice and the court system in Luzerne County was a victim of Ciavarella and Conahan. All of us must continue to dedicate our efforts to make sure this does not happen again.

     I want to acknowledge the extraordinary efforts of the Internal Revenue Service and Federal Bureau of Investigation agents who so diligently worked on this case and the outstanding professionalism of the of the prosecution team: Senior Litigation Counsel Gordon A.D. Zubrod, Assistant United States Attorneys William S. Houser, Michael A. Consiglio, and Amy Phillips and Criminal Division Chief Christian A. Fisanick.

     This investigation began in 2007 under the direction of Former United States Attorney Martin C. Carlson, now a United States Magistrate Judge in the Middle District, and continued under Dennis C. Pfannenschmidt, who succeeded Carlson as court-appointed United States Attorney in 2009. Investigations of political corruption will continue.

     I also want to thank the United States Marshals Service and the Federal Protection Services staff in the courthouse for their service to the court, our office and the public during this proceeding.

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