The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

News

April 25, 2014

Builder in youth jail scandal gets a year in prison

Susquehanna Valley — SCRANTON — A builder of for-profit youth detention centers was sentenced today to a year in prison for his role in a notorious juvenile justice scandal in which thousands of young offenders were sent to his facilities by a judge who took money from him.

The builder, Robert Mericle, was also fined $250,000 and ordered to serve 100 hours of community service by a federal judge who increased the sentence recommended by prosecutors, citing the severity of the crime and Mericle’s lies to investigators about what he knew of the judges’ scheme.

Mericle, the last major figure in the so-called “kids for cash” scandal to be sentenced, apologized to the court.

“I’m ashamed to be here. But I put myself here,” he said.

Prosecutors said two judges in northeastern Pennsylvania accepted $2.1 million in illegal payments from Mericle. Former Luzerne County Judges Michael Conahan and Mark Ciavarella Jr. plotted to shut down the dilapidated county-run juvenile detention center in 2002 and arrange for the construction of the PA Child Care facility outside Wilkes-Barre and a second lockup in western Pennsylvania.

Ciavarella, who presided over juvenile court, sent young people to the for-profit detention centers — often for minor offenses — while he was taking payments from Mericle, a prominent builder and close friend of Ciavarella, and from the facilities’ co-owner, Robert Powell.

Both judges are serving lengthy prison sentences, and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court threw out some 4,000 juvenile convictions after the scheme was uncovered.

Sandy Fonzo, whose son committed suicide in 2010 at the age of 23 after bouncing in and out of Ciavarella’s courtroom, said she was pleased with the sentence.

“He’s going to feel what it’s like to lose his family and sleep in a cell like the one he built for our children,” she said.

Mericle had pleaded guilty to failing to report a felony.

Prosecutors had recommended six months, lower than the guideline range of eight to 14 months.

Trying to keep Mericle out of prison, defense lawyers urged U.S. District Judge Edwin Kosik to consider their client’s extensive cooperation with the government, his charitable works and the potential damage that a prison sentence would do to his business, one of the largest commercial construction firms in northeastern Pennsylvania.

But Kosik said Mericle deserved a stiffer sentence.

While acknowledging that Mericle had taken full responsibility, “his false information to the government is nothing but corruption,” Kosik said.

Mericle did not break the law by paying the judges, but the judges committed a crime by taking the money, and Kosik said the developer had contributed to a widespread culture of corruption in Luzerne County.

Mericle closed his eyes after the sentence was handed down but otherwise showed no emotion and made no comment as he left court.

His attorney said no decision had been made on whether to appeal the sentence.

1
Text Only
News
  • Ritz-Craft Ritz-Craft to hire 60 for Mifflinburg plant

    MIFFLINBURG — Sixty jobs are coming to Mifflinburg as a Ritz-Craft production facility that went dark seven years ago amid the housing downturn will come back on line during the next few months, company officials announced Tuesday.

    July 29, 2014 1 Photo

  • Selinsgrove man dies when tractor flips in Chapman Township

    PORT TREVORTON — A 57-year-old Selinsgrove man died Tuesday evening when the farm tractor he was driving overturned and pinned him beneath it, according to Snyder County Coroner Bruce Hummel.

    July 29, 2014

  • VanKirk 'Real hero' of World War II dies

    ATLANTA, Ga. — Theodore “Dutch” VanKirk, the last surviving crew member of the Enola Gay, which dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, died Monday of natural causes in the retirement home where he lived in Georgia. He was 93.

    July 29, 2014 1 Photo

  • Mayor: Rental ban for drug dealers a success

    SUNBURY — A controversial landlord-tenant ordinance passed by the City Council in 2012 has become one of Sunbury’s “better success stories,” Mayor David Persing said Tuesday.

    July 29, 2014

  • Mom cited for allegedly leaving baby in car for 12 minutes

    LEWISBURG — A summary citation carrying a maximum fine of $127.50 was filed Tuesday against a Lewisburg woman accused of leaving her 10-month-old baby unattended for 12 minutes in a car in Union County on July 21.

    July 29, 2014

  • Line Mountain district, teachers $1.2M apart in contract talks

    MANDATA — Separate proposals from the Line Mountain School District and its teachers union are $1.2 million apart and not getting any closer, according to Benjamin L. Pratt, the district’s labor counsel at the CGA Law Firm.

    July 29, 2014

  • Road work: Expect traffic delays on Route 54 near Danville

    RIVERSIDE — Motorists in the Danville-Riverside area are advised that a 2.2-mile micro-surfacing project on Route 54 from Riverside borough to Boyd Station in Northumberland County will begin this afternoon.

    July 29, 2014

  • Blood trail leads to stabbing suspect in Montour County

    DANVILLE — Borough police followed a trail of blood along a sidewalk, up a staircase and down a hallway that led to a moaning woman who they say knifed another woman Sunday night.

    July 29, 2014

  • Spencer_Maria1.jpg Maria Spencer charged with murdering her ex-husband

    SELINSGROVE — On Monday, a little more than two years after Frank Spencer was executed outside his Columbia County home, his former wife and her father were charged in his murder and the attempted homicide of Spencer’s girlfriend.

    July 29, 2014 1 Photo

  • Opponents, supporters to discuss clean air rules

    DENVER — Hundreds of people are expected to attend public hearings this week in a handful of cities across the U.S. to tell federal regulators what they think of proposed rules to cut pollution from power plants.

    July 29, 2014

The Daily Marquee
Video
Parade
Magazine

Click HERE to read all your Parade favorites including Hollywood Wire, Celebrity interviews and photo galleries, Food recipes and cooking tips, Games and lots more.