The Kids for Cash Scandal

Text by Daryl Khan | Photos by Robert Stolarik

WILKES-BARRE, Pa. — After a few beers one evening in the mid-1960s, Mark Ciavarella, in high school at the time and applying the kind of inexplicable logic that experts say is typical of many teens whose brains have not fully developed, conspired to steal a car and go for a joyride with his cousin and a friend. A detective noticed the teenagers suspiciously lingering around the car and pulled over. Ciavarella’s friend and his cousin darted away, but Ciavarella was not so lucky. The detective nabbed him and threw him in the back of his police car.

The officer’s decision would determine the young Ciavarella’s future. Would he arrest and process the suspect, possibly derailing the young man’s promising future? A staggering number of young people who end up in the criminal justice system are more likely to end up in prison than they are to earn a college degree.

During the ride, Ciavarella’s heart pounded. Instead of placing the young Ciavarella into the relentless teeth of the juvenile justice system he gave the young man a break and took him home. He was greeted by his hysterical mother screaming, “I can’t believe my son is a criminal!” His father’s feelings were equally clear; he reared back and punched his son in the face.

“Knocks me out cold,” Ciavarella says.

“I didn’t need the system to take care of my problems,” Ciavarella continues. “My parents took care of my problems.”

The tough love, however, did not work. Ciavarella, now a disgraced judge whose name is synonymous with one of the biggest judicial scandals in recent memory, will in all likelihood die behind bars. Ciavarella was a lifelong resident of Wilkes-Barre. Now, he is imprisoned in a federal penitentiary, inmate number 15008-067, more than a thousand miles away from his grandchildren. They will learn about their grandfather from the hundreds of news clippings that detail his breathtaking corruption, and in the movie about his exploits that he agreed to star in.

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