Civil hearing in ‘Kids for Cash’ scheme helps bring closure to families impacted

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WILKES-BARRE, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) — A federal civil damages hearing for victims of the infamous Kids for Cash scheme in Luzerne County is wrapping up.

As Eyewitness News previously reported, that hearing got underway two weeks ago. It centers around the actions of two corrupt judges who received millions of dollars in kickbacks in exchange for sending juveniles away to private detention centers in which they had a financial interest.

And Eyewitness News heard story after story from the victims who are now young adults about how the Kids for Cash scheme continues to impact their lives.

“I just wanted him to know that there are so many of us who are still trying to heal and move forward after all these years passed by,” Kids for Cash victim Amanda Lorah said.

Lorah was 13 when she was sent away for four years for a minor “shoving incident ” in school. She is now 29 years old and lives in California. She testified by Zoom at the federal civil damages hearing, last week. She says closure has been tough to come by.

“I think it’s always going to be an ongoing process. You know, I’m sure we have been able to move on a little bit. It’s never going to go away. You know it’s always going to be there. It’s always going to be in our minds. We’re always going to have those moments of anxiety. I don’t think that will ever go away,” Lorah said.

Federal prosecutors say thousands of juveniles were sent away for minor offenses as part of a scheme involving former Luzerne County judges Mark Ciavaeralla and Michael Conahan. The crimes took place between 2002 and 2008.

They were convicted of accepting millions of dollars in kickbacks in exchange for sending juveniles to private detention centers in which they had a business interest. Conahan pleaded guilty to one count of racketeering conspiracy and was sentenced to 17.5 years in prison. He was released in 2020 because of COVID-19 health concerns.

Ciavrella stood trial in 2011 and was convicted on 12 of 39 counts and is serving 28 years in prison. Hundreds of victims told their stories over the past two weeks. Lorah had this message for the former judges:

“I don’t think it’s fair that Ciavarella thinks he should get out. I know Conahan claimed he was sorry. In my eyes I don’t really think he’s sorry, I think it’s more or less he got caught,” Lorah said.

Judy Lorah is Amanda’s aunt and says she was shocked when she heard the stories from the victims these past two weeks.

“I saw some stories, heard some stories I can’t believe we never seen or heard. I talked to a couple of children. I can’t believe I didn’t even know about things that happened,” Judy Lorah said.

Testimony wrapped up late last week, but it’s still unclear about when Judge Christopher Conner will make a ruling on what if any financial damages should be awarded to the juveniles.

The judges waived their right to be at the hearing.

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