Society

Robert Mericle Sentenced To Prison For Role In "Kids For Cash" Scandal

| by Will Hagle

Robert Mericle, a builder of for-profit youth detention centers in Pennsylvania, has been sentenced to a year in federal prison for his role in a scandal that found judges taking money to send youth to his juvenile detention facilities.

The sentence was handed down in a Scranton federal court around 11 a.m. ET Friday morning by Judge Edwin Kosik. In addition to his year-long sentence, Mericle received a $250,000 fine and 100 hours of community service.

Mericle was sentenced for lying about his involvement in the “kids for cash scandal,” in which Mericle paid a total of $2.1 million for judges to send juveniles to his detention centers.

Mericle is the last major player in the “kids for cash” scandal to be sentenced, which also led to the conviction of the two involved judges, President Judge Mark Ciavarella and Senior Judge Michael Conahan. 

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Ciavarella and Conahan plead guilty in 2009 to accusations that they had accepted money from Mericle in exchange for sending juveniles to the facilities he owned. Many of the juveniles were harshly sentenced for relatively minor crimes, such as a student who mocked a principal on Myspace. 

After a federal judge voided Ciavarella and Conahan’s initial plea agreement, Ciaverella was ultimately convicted on 12 of 39 counts and Conahan’s guilty plea of racketeering conspiracy was revised. Both are currently in prison on lengthy sentences. Ciavarella was sentenced to 28 years, and Conahan was sentenced to 17 and a half years.

In 2009, Mericle also plead guilty to failure to disclose a felony, after he initially refused to admit he had paid $2.1 million in finder’s fees to Ciavarella and Conahan. He faced up to three years in prison, but his sentence was reduced as part of his plea agreement. 

According to ABC News, Mericle did not actually break any laws by paying the judges, but the judges committed a crime by accepting the money. Prosecutors also argued that Mericle’s actions contributed to the corruption taking place throughout the region. 

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“I want to publicly apologize for the wrong that I’ve done,” Mericle said in the courtroom, according to the Scranton Times-Tribune, “I’m ashamed to be here, but I put myself here.” 

Mericle’s attorneys had been arguing for probation or house arrest so that Mericle could avoid jail time, but Judge Kosik ultimately ruled a harsher sentence.

“I believe Mr. Mericle sits here in court embarrassed. He has offered no excuses and he has accepted full responsibility,” Judge Kosik said, “Since I did him no favors, I will wish him the best of luck in life.”