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Federal judge Oks $4.75M settlement by former 'kids for cash' detention center owner

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WILKES-BARRE, Pennsylvania — A federal judge has approved a $4.75 million settlement between a businessman at the center of a Pennsylvania juvenile justice scandal and youths sent to his detention centers by a corrupt judge.

Robert Powell was sentenced to 18 months in prison for his role in the scandal that became known as "kids for cash," a kickback scheme that led the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to vacate the convictions of thousands of juveniles.

Powell testified he was forced to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to former Luzerne County Judges Mark Ciavarella Jr. and Michael Conahan in return for their support of his two private juvenile facilities.

The settlement agreement, approved Monday, covers at least 2,400 juveniles who appeared before Ciavarella between January 2003 and May 2008.

Prosecutors said Ciavarella ordered youths to detention for a wide range of relatively minor infractions, thus helping to fill the beds of Powell's PA Child Care and its sister facility, Western PA Child Care.

Ciavarella and Conahan are serving lengthy prison terms in connection with the scandal.

Plaintiffs have until Oct. 5 to submit a claim.

The plaintiffs previously reached a $2.5 million settlement with PA Child Care, Western PA Child Care and another company. The builder of the facilities, Robert K. Mericle, who paid the judges more than $2 million, agreed in 2011 to pay more than $17 million to the juveniles and their families.

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