Families of Kids-for-Cash victims speak out on release of former judge Conahan

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WILKES-BARRE, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU-TV) People are reacting today to word that a key figure in the infamous Kids-for-Cash scandal, in Luzerne County, has been released from a federal prison.

As Eyewitness News reported yesterday, former judge Michael Conahan was granted an early release because of COVID-19 concerns.

Conahan and fellow former judge Mark Ciavarella are serving long prison terms in connection with a scheme to send juveniles to private detention centers in exchange for millions of dollars in kickbacks.

Conahan’s early release is sparking a lot of reaction, namely from the families of the children who were victims of the Kids-for-Cash scheme.

“I think it’s wrong. I think that he got special treatment and none of the children got special treatment,” said Judy Lorah Fisher, whose niece was a victim of the Kids-for-Cash scheme.

Fisher’s niece was sent to a private juvenile detention in the Kids-for-Cash scandal for a very minor offense. She was 13 at the time, she is now 30.

“She doesn’t believe he should be out. She didn’t get a chance to come out. She was incarcerated, she was scared, she was suicidal after the first two years.”

FILE – In this Feb. 12, 2009, file photo, Michael Conahan, center, leaves the federal courthouse in Scranton, Pa. Conahan, a former Pennsylvania judge involved in a scheme to send youths to a for-profit jail in exchange for kickbacks, has been released from federal prison with six years left on his sentence because of coronavirus concerns. Conahan, 68, was sent home from the low-security Federal Correctional Institution in Miami last Friday, June 19, 2020, on a 30-day furlough that could lead to permanent home confinement for the remainder of his sentence. (AP Photo/David Kidwell, File)

Conahan was sentenced in 2011 to 17.5 years for his role in the Kids for Cash scandal. He pleaded guilty to a racketeering conspiracy charge for accepting part of $2.8 million dollars from the builder and the co-owner of the for-profit detention center.

According to the Associated Press, the 68-year-old Conahan was sent home for a 30-day furlough because of coronavirus concerns. He has medical conditions that puts him at a higher risk for COVID-19 complications. That furlough could lead to permanent home confinement.

“Do you remember me? Do you remember me? You told everybody they had to be held accountable for their actions. You need to be too. Do you remember me?”

That was Sandy Fonzo lashing out in 2011 after the trial for Kids for Cash co-conspirator Mark Ciavarella who is serving a 28 year prison sentence after being found guilty by a jury.

Her son killed himself. She says he was sent away as part of the scheme for no good reason and that led to his suicide years later. She reacted to Conahan’s early release.

“This is very frustrating to me and brings back all of the anxiety and the continued knowing that this system is broke and does not work. Will this set the wheels in motion for his cohort to begin his release also?” she said.

The United States attorney, which argued against Conahan’s early release issued a statement which reads in part:

“It truly shows that our system operates without fear or favor, when a man who so corrupted the system and negatively impacted thousands of young lives can still reap the benefits of an early release program.”

Eyewitness News reached out to Conahan’s attorney for comment for this story. We have yet to hear back. We have also been trying to reach Conahan himself for comment. Those efforts are continuing tonight.

Federal prison officials say COVID-19 has been sweeping through federal prisons, so they have been increasingly relying on home confinement to reduce the possibility of the spread of the infection.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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