'Kids-for-cash' settlement approved in Luzerne County case

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A federal judge has preliminarily approved the $17.75 million settlement that Robert K. Mericle, the builder of two juvenile detention facilities who allegedly paid millions in "finder's fees" to former Luzerne County Judges Michael T. Conahan and Mark A. Ciavarella Jr., agreed to in December in a civil suit brought by a class of juvenile plaintiffs.

The suit stems from the "kids-for-cash" scandal in Luzerne County.

Mr. Mericle's attorneys, along with counsel for the plaintiffs, filed the settlement agreement in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania on Dec. 16.

Under the agreement in Wallace v. Powell, according to court documents, Mr. Mericle and his company, Mericle Construction Inc., would pay $17.75 million into the settlement fund with no admission of liability, resolving all claims against them.

The settlement provides for an additional $1.75 million payment to the plaintiffs if Mr. Mericle is successful in a separate suit against his insurer, according to court documents.

A hearing on the final settlement has been scheduled for Sept. 10.

Remaining as defendants in the suit are Mr. Ciavarella and Mr. Conahan, as well as Robert Powell, the former co-owner of PA Child Care, who admitted to paying millions in kickbacks to the two judges.

Additional defendants include the two detention facilities -- PA Child Care and Western PA Child Care -- as well as Mid-Atlantic Youth Services, the company that operated the facilities, and Sandra Brulo, the former deputy director of forensic programs of the county's department of probation.

The consolidated suits allege that the former judges conspired with the other defendants and used their influence as judicial officers to select PA Child Care and Western PA Child Care as detention facilities, and that they intentionally filled those facilities with juveniles to earn the conspirators excessive profits.

The largest single portion of Mr. Mericle's settlement will be reserved for juvenile victims who suffered physical or psychological harm as the result of being sent to detention centers by Mr. Ciavarella.

Zack Needles: zneedles@alm.com or 215-557-2493. To read more articles like this, visit www.thelegalintelligencer.com .


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