Detention center owner, youths reach $4.75M settlement in Pennsylvania 'kids for cash' lawsuit

Associated Press

A businessman at the center of a Pennsylvania juvenile justice scandal has agreed to pay at least $4.75 million to settle a lawsuit filed by youths sent to his detention centers by a judge in a "kids for cash" scheme, according to court documents filed Tuesday.

The settlement amount could reach $7.5 million, depending on a calculation of Robert Powell's net worth, the documents said. It will require judicial approval.

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The agreement covers at least 2,400 juveniles whom then-Luzerne County Judge Mark Ciavaralla Jr. found delinquent or sent to a detention center between January 2003 and May 2008.

Powell was sentenced to 18 months in prison for his role in the kickback scheme that led the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to vacate the convictions of thousands of juveniles. He declined comment Tuesday through his attorney.

Powell testified he was forced to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to Ciavarella and former Luzerne County Judge Michael Conahan in return for their support of his two private juvenile facilities.

Prosecutors said Ciavarella ordered youths to detention for a wide range of relatively minor infractions, thus helping to fill the beds of Powell's PA Child Care and its sister facility, Western PA Child Care.

Ciavarella and Conahan are serving lengthy prison terms in connection with the scandal.

The plaintiffs previously reached a $2.5 million settlement with PA Child Care, Western PA Child Care and another company. The builder of the facilities, Robert K. Mericle, who paid the judges more than $2 million, agreed in 2011 to pay more than $17 million to the juveniles and their families.