A builder of for-profit youth detention centers was sentenced Friday to a year in prison for his role in a “kids for cash” scandal in which thousands of juveniles were sent to his facilities by judges who took money from him.
The builder, Robert Mericle, was also fined $250,000 and ordered to serve 100 hours of community service by a federal judge who upped the sentence recommended by prosecutors, citing the severity of the crime and Mericle's lies to investigators about what he knew of the judges' scheme.
The two judges in northeastern Pennsylvania were accused of taking $2.1 million in illegal payments from Mericle. Prosecutors say children were locked away in the facilities, often for minor offenses, by the former judges, Mark Ciavarella Jr. and Michael Conahan, who are now serving lengthy prison sentences.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court threw out some 4,000 juvenile convictions after the scheme was uncovered.
Sandy Fonzo, whose son committed suicide last year at the age of 23 after bouncing in and out of Ciavarella's courtroom, said she was pleased with the verdict.
“He's going to feel what it's like to lose his family and sleep in a cell like the one he built for our children,” she said.
Mericle had pleaded guilty to failing to report a felony.
Prosecutors had recommended six months, while the defense argued for probation. But Judge Edwin Kosik said Mericle deserved a stiffer sentence.
While acknowledging that Mericle had taken full responsibility, “his false information to the government is nothing but corruption,” Kosik said.
Mericle, a prominent developer, closed his eyes after the sentence was handed down but otherwise showed no emotion and made no comment as he left court.
His attorney said no decision had been made on whether to appeal.