Every scandal begins with a lie. But the truth will come out. And then comes the fallout and the outrage.
Scandals have shaped America since its founding. From business and politics to sports and society, we look on aghast as corruption, deceit and ambition bring down heroes and celebrities, politicians and moguls. And when the dust finally settles, we’re left to wonder: how did this happen? Where did they trip up, and who is to blame? From the creators of American History Tellers, Business Wars and Tides of History comes American Scandal, where we take you deep into the heart of America’s dark side to look at what drives someone to break the rules and what happens when they’re caught. Hosted by Lindsay Graham.
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Tue, 16 May 2023 07:01
Two Pennsylvania judges hatch a plan. If they pull it off, they'll score nearly a million dollars.
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Hey, prime members, you can binge all three episodes of American Scandal, the Kids for Cash Kickback Scheme, ad-free on Amazon Music. Download the app today. It's January 30th, 2007, in northeastern Pennsylvania. In a hallway outside a juvenile courtroom, Jessica Van Rieeth is pacing anxiously, clutching a small piece of paper. County Courthouse is full of teenagers and their parents, all waiting for their turn in front of a judge. Some of the kids are engaged in heated arguments with their parents, while others are sitting on benches, completely silent, and looking terrified. But if there's one thing all these families have in common, it's that no one seems happy to be here. It's a feeling Jessica Van Rieeth can relate to. Van Rieeth is 16 years old, in a junior at a nearby public high school. She has a reputation for being confident and outspoken, the kind of teenager who isn't afraid to speak her mind, where what she wants to, or argue with people about politics. Van Rieeth knows she can sometimes come off as a bit sharp, but that's only a small part of who she really is. Van Rieeth is a good student with a solid GPA, and on top of all the academics, she's held a part-time job for the last two years, working as a waitress at a local Italian place. All in all, Van Rieeth sees herself as a pretty normal teenager, which is why this whole experience has been so stupifying. In a few minutes, Van Rieeth has to defend herself against criminal charges. It all started a few months ago, when she was caught by her vice principal, holding a lighter and a pipe used to smoke weed. When the vice principal caught her, Van Rieeth didn't know what to say. The pipe and lighter belonged to her friend, but she didn't want to get them in trouble. So Van Rieeth took the blame, but she didn't just get a slap on the wrist. She was charged with a crime, and now she has to appear in juvenile court in front of Judge Mark Chivorella, known for his policy of zero tolerance, and with reputation for sending kids away from minor offenses. But Van Rieeth jotted down what she believes are some good arguments, and she's hoping she can make a strong appeal to the judge and get him to show some leniency. Van Rieeth continues pacing the hallway outside the courtroom, when her father, Jack, comes up and lays a hand on her shoulder. You doing okay, honey? Yeah, I'm just scared. I didn't do anything bad, but does mean the judge is going to see that. Oh, Jessica, he'll do the right thing. Yeah, he'll see it. I promise. Dad, you don't know that. No, I do know that. Remember, I talk to the people in the probation department, and they laid out the worst case scenario, which is that you get probation, right? No, nothing to be scared of here. But what if they were wrong? I don't even have a lawyer. We should have gotten one. Jessica, we went over this. The probation officer has said you didn't need an attorney. You're going to be fine. Van Rieeth. And that's us. Come on, honey. Let's get it over with. Then we'll get out of here and put it all behind us. Van Rieeth nods, and she and her dad step into the courtroom, where they find Judge Chivorella sitting at his bench. Chivorella isn't his mid-50s, and sits peering down at Van Rieeth with a look of contempt. He tosses aside his paperwork and a moment later, the hearing gets underway. This is Van Rieeth. You stand accused of possession of drug paraphernalia. How do you plead to these charges? Van Rieeth takes out her folded piece of paper and glances down at her notes. She's been getting ready for this moment for days. But now that she's standing in front of the judge, she suddenly feels frozen. I'm, um, come on, speak up. I can't hear you. I'm, I'm sorry. Van Rieeth, to the charges of possession of drug paraphernalia, guilty or not guilty? Um, guilty. I see. And you were there when I spoke at Crestwood High School? Van Rieeth doesn't admit that she made a point of missing Chivorella's appearances when he came to her high school. Instead, she just shakes her head. No, sir, I wasn't at school those days. Did your friends attend the assemblies? Yes. And did they tell you what I said? Yes, but what did I say would happen if you had drugs in school? You said you would send us away. That's right. And that's what I'm going to do now. The hearing hasn't lasted more than 90 seconds. But Chivorella hands down a severe judgment, ordering Van Rieeth into juvenile detention. Van Rieeth wants to plead with the judge to get him to reconsider. But Chivorella moves fast and tells a sheriff to place her in handcuffs. Van Rieeth starts to panic, looking over at her father, hoping he can somehow intervene. But her dad looks just as stunned and confused as she is. A moment later, Van Rieeth has led out of the courtroom feeling dizzy and speechless. She doesn't know how this could have happened. How a judge could be so unfair. He didn't even seem interested in her side of the story. Jessica Van Rieeth is only a teenager and doesn't know a lot about courts or judges. But one thing was obvious. It appeared his only goal was to send her to jail and then move on to the next kid. American scandal is sponsored by sleep number. Eat, work, sleep. There are times when that's all I seem to do. Could that be because they're so important? So work hard, eat well, and sleep soundly with a sleep number bed. Sleep number beds already adjust from soft to supportive on both sides. But sleep number sleep IQ technology also tracks how well you're sleeping to improve your sleep and energy and find your ideal schedule. I know my sleep number. It's 45. Discover yours and sleep next level. Unlock your unique potential with a smart bed that can perform as well as you. And now say 50% on the sleep number limited edition smart bed. Plus special financing for a limited time. Only at sleepnumberstores or sleepnumber.com. See store for details. Hey listeners, I want to talk to you about Etsy. Etsy is the place for beautifully made items from independent sellers. Etsy sellers have art, style, and home pieces like rugs and furniture, as well as outerwear, accessories, and more, made for all budgets and any occasion. With Spring and Full Bloom, it's a great time to take advantage of all the unique gardening supplies available on Etsy. From personalized gardening aprons and tools to seed starter kits and gorgeous planners that fit any aesthetic. With Etsy, you can always be sure you'll find beautiful and unique pieces you'll love. New to Etsy? Use code new for 10% off your first purchase. That's code new, maximum discount value of $50. Offer end June 30th, 2023. See terms at Etsy.com slash terms for home, style, and gift shop at Etsy.com. Etsy has it. From Wondery, I'm Lindsay Graham and this is America's candle. America's criminal justice system is built on a promise of fairness. Citizens charged with a crime are guaranteed in impartial jury and granted a wide range of legal protections. And then there are the judges who themselves play a central role in the process. They serve as referees of the law, acting as independent custodians of America's course. The obligation for judges to be fair and honest is one of the hallmarks of our country's democracy. But in 2009, citizens in Northeastern Pennsylvania had their faith in this core democratic institution shaken as they confronted one of the largest acts of judicial corruption in recent history. The case involved two county judges who orchestrated the construction of a four-profit juvenile detention center. In return, the judges received lucrative financial kickbacks in a scheme that came to be known as kids for cash. Countless children would have their lives upended. The FBI got involved after leading an investigation into the mafia. Victims and members of the press fought for years to get out the truth. And in the end, the two judges would face their own day of reckoning. This is Episode 1, Wilkesbury, Pennsylvania. It's 1966 in Northeast Pennsylvania, about 41 years before Judge Mark Chiverella sent Jessica Van Rieth to juvenile detention. It's late in the evening, and Chiverella is walking with friends through a residential neighborhood in Wilkesbury, a city about 100 miles north of Philadelphia. The boys are wandering along an era street, past rows of small, wood frame houses. It's a modest neighborhood full of working people, and at this hour, the streets are all but dead. As the group rounds a corner, Chiverella takes another look at his watch. It's a lot later than he thought it was, and Chiverella knows his mom and dad aren't going to be happy that he's still out. But then again, he manages to get away with a lot. Chiverella's 15 years old, and his parents have taken to calling him scooch, Italian slang for pest, and a nickname given to troublemakers. Chiverella doesn't think of himself as a bad kid. It's true, he's had his fair share of trouble, and he's even been suspended at school a few times for getting into fights. But nothing's ever gotten too serious. And so even though the night has gotten late, Chiverella isn't worried. You'll get home at some point and deal with his parents then. So he and his friends walk for a few more blocks, talking and pallying around, before turning onto a busier street. There are a number of cars parked along the road, and a block away, there's a bar, blasting loud rock music. But as they walk down the street, one of Chiverella's friends spots are red and convertible, parked with a top down. It's a beauty. Top of the line, with red leather interior, the kind of car Chiverella would kill for. The teenagers surround the car like a group of hungry sharks. Chiverella heads for the passenger side, and glides his hand along the trim, imagining himself driving down the open road with the wind in his hair. It's a beautiful car, and Chiverella can't help but wonder why the owner would just park it here with the top down. It's completely exposed. Chiverella turns to one of his friends, who grins and says whoever it was, they're just asking for it, aren't they? Chiverella shoots his friend a skeptical look. It sounds like he wants to pull off something more than one of their usual pranks. Sounds like he's saying he wants to steal the convertible. But Chiverella's friend tells him to relax. He doesn't want to steal the car, or at least he doesn't want to steal it forever. The friend says they should just take it for a joy ride, and come back, and park the car exactly where they found it. Chiverella hesitates. If anything happened, they got caught. His dad would lose it. So Chiverella says he's out. He should be getting home anyways. But the other guys tell Chiverella to stop being so scared. It's not that big a deal, and it'll be fast. They'll hop in, get it going, take the convertible for a quick ride around the block. Chiverella stands staring at the car, feeling torn. He doesn't normally shy away from challenges, but this is serious business. At the same time, he's nearly salivating staring at the car. Chiverella doesn't know if he'll ever have another chance to ride in a car like this. It's a dream. And his friends are right. If they play it safe, no one's going to get caught. So Chiverella says he's in. And taking one last look around the block, the teenagers make their move, and hop in the convertible. About an hour later, March Chiverella sits slumped in the back of a police car, as a hedge through the east end of town. The car turns onto a quiet residential street, and the officer at the wheel shoots Chiverella knowing look in the rear view mirror. The policeman just caught the 15-year-old and his friends as they were about to steal a car. The officer could have booked Chiverella at the station and turned the night into a real fiasco. But instead, he said he was willing to let it go and just bring Chiverella back home. The officer probably thought it was an act of mercy. But what he doesn't know is that for Chiverella, going home probably isn't a lot better than spending a night in the county jail. Chiverella's dad, Mark Senior, can be hot-tempered. And Chiverella knows that arriving home in a cop car is bound to set him off. Chiverella's fears only grow worse, when the police car pulls up in front of his house, and he sees his neighbors peering at him through their front windows. The east end of Wilkesbury is a tight-knit community. One of those places where everyone knows everyone and the whole town looks out for each other. And while normally that's a good thing, Chiverella knows he's about to become the center of neighborhood gossip and a source of shame for his parents. A minute later, the police officer escort Chiverella up the front steps, knocks on the door. When the door swings open, Chiverella is somewhat relieved to be face to face with his mother. She's wearing a faded blue house dress and slippers, and looks like she was just getting ready for bed. But seeing a police officer on her front steps, Mary Chiverella gets a look of shock. The officer explains he caught her son and his friends attempting to steal a car, but instead of booking him, he's going to let the family decide on a punishment. Chiverella's mother shuts her eyes, shaking her head and weary disapproval. She tells the officer she appreciates him showing mercy, and they'll handle it from here. Chiverella steps in from the front porch. And as soon as the door closes, his mother turns to him, looking furious. Mark, what did you do? Mom, it's not what it's sad. We just wanted to have some fun. We weren't going to steal it. Then what were you going to do? We just wanted to take it for a spin, you know, drive around that block. And you don't think that that's stealing. No, you don't understand. Mark, I understand. But what I don't get is how this could have happened in the first place, because we did not raise you to be a thief. Mom, I'm not a thief. You know, getting into fights at school is one thing, but my own son, a criminal, that I just can't believe. Chiverella's mother begins tearing up and turns away to hide her face. Mom, I'm sorry. I promise, no more getting to trouble. I swear, it's never going to stop with you. Mom, I'm telling you, last time, well you said that before. Mom, listen. Chiverella's mother wipes her nose and heads to the staircase, where she calls out to Chiverella's father. Well, you've got a problem. You've got to get down here. I need you to come take care of it. Chiverella swallows hard as his father comes lumbering on the staircase. And after his mom explains what happened, his dad grits his teeth and stairs down at his son, looking ready to pick a fight. So Chiverella tries again to explain himself, but then it happens fast. His dad winds back and smacks him on the side of his head. Chiverella crashes to the floor, his ears ringing. And the last thing he remembers is the smell of the old musty rug and the feeling of shame for disappointing his mother. It's 1994 in downtown Wilkesbury about 28 years later. In a large hotel ballroom, Mark Chiverella steps onto a stage and smiles at a group of about 300 people in the audience. Off to one side of the room, a pair of loudspeakers is blasting music. And behind Chiverella is a large banner that reads, a remarkable choice for judge, playful pun on his first name. The room is packed with Chiverella's most passionate supporters. And even though he's prepared for this moment a million times, Chiverella is feeling nervous. In just a few moments, he's going to announce that he's running for county judge. It's the culmination of decades of hard work, along with Chiverella's commitment to clean himself up and build a good life. When he thanks back on all the old memories, Chiverella has a hard time reconciling his identity today with that teenager so many years ago. Chiverella made a lot of mistakes when he was a kid, but he grew up. He went to college and then law school. Chiverella got married, had three children, and he and his wife settled down in his hometown, where he's been a partner at a law firm for over 16 years. It's a prestigious job, but Chiverella has an itch to do something more, something bigger with real power, where he can make a difference in the community. Becoming a judge seemed like the most obvious move. Chiverella never forgot how a good dose of punishment helped him straighten up back when he was a teenager. At the time, he'd been driven by some dangerous impulses, but his father held him accountable. And while the punishments weren't pleasant, Chiverella can now see how they helped shape him into the successful man he's become. So Chiverella is hoping to pay it forward, sharing these life lessons as a county judge. Though winning the election isn't going to be easy, there are three other highly qualified candidates vying for the job. And Chiverella was told he should dip into his savings, spending upwards of $150,000 of his own money running ads for his campaign. But that's all getting ahead of himself. First, Chiverella just needs to make the announcement that he's entering the election, and if tonight goes well, he'll figure out what comes next. So a minute later, Chiverella begins making his way across the stage and approaches a microphone. The music is turned down and a few of Chiverella's supporters whistle and cheer. Chiverella gives a warm greeting to the audience, asking how everyone's doing, and after another round of cheers, he launches into it, and begins to tell his story. Chiverella starts by reciting some of his accomplishments. He's a local boy and a decorated coach on the girl's swim team at the nearby Catholic Youth Center. In his time, he's led the team to win nearly 100 consecutive meets. Chiverella gets some mild applause from that bragging right, but it's not exactly the reaction he was hoping for. He decides to shift gears. So Chiverella says he's always loved Wilkesbury. It's home, but he's grown concerned. His parents raised him with strong values, but he worries now that those kind of standards are disappearing, but the soul of the community is slipping away. Chiverella pauses to gauge the response, and he can feel the audience is dialing in. So he goes further, saying he wants to restore Lazern County back to the wholesome community it used to be, back when he was a kid. Chiverella says if he's elected, he'll be tough on crime and impose the maximum sentences, including the death penalty. Several people in the audience shout out in support, and while Chiverella believes in the redeeming value of punishment, he can also see that a platform of law and order resonates with voters. So Chiverella calls for a change in the community's culture, a change that begins in the courtroom, and he tells the audience, it's time for people who break the law to realize they'll be punished. The crowd roars in a pause, and Chiverella makes his closing pitch. The voters should elect him to be a judge in Lazern County. He promises to be a citizen's judge, that he'll help restore Wilkesbury to a better time, a time when the community had values, and people didn't think they could get away with breaking the law. That brings out another round of cheers. And hearing such a unified response, Chiverella decides it's settled. He has his platform. He's going to run on law and order, what the voters care about. And as long as he's willing to risk some of his savings, be clever with the political ads, this election could be his for the taking. American scandal is sponsored by Horrible. I know you're not likely keeping close track of the ads I do for Horrible. But in the last two, I've mentioned my love and admiration for Jeff Tweety, singer, songwriter, best known for fronting the band Wilco. And there's nothing quite like hearing about a musician's life and work than in the voice of the musician. Narration is its own form of music, and Tweety's got his own rhythm and cadence. So I am super excited to pre-order another new Jeff Tweety book, his upcoming World Within a Song, music that changed my life and life that changed my music. 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Next on my To Listen list is The Sandman, based on the riveting DC comic series of the same name about an immortal king who's imprisoned on earth. It features familiar voices like Riz Ahmed, Cat Dennings, and Andy Circus. Plus, a score by award-winning composer James Hanigan. I'm so excited to get started on this one. As a member, you'll have access to Audible's Ever-Growing Library, which features thousands of titles. You even get to keep one of your favorite titles from the entire catalog every single month, including the latest bestsellers and new releases. New members can try audible free for 30 days. Visit audible.com slash WondryPod, or text WondryPod to 500-500 to try audible for free for 30 days. That's W-O-N-D-E-R-Y-P-O-D. Audible.com slash WondryPod, or text WondryPod to 500-500 to try audible for free for 30 days. It's early 1998 in Wilkesbury, Pennsylvania, and March Chivarella is staring at what might be the most heinous building he's ever seen. It's a squat, three-story brick structure built in the 30s, and from the looks of it, no one's given it much love since. The metal handrails are stained with rust. Some of the bricks in the facade look like they're about to crumble. The whole place looks abandoned, almost haunted. And Chivarella is having to come to grips with an uncomfortable fact. This is where Luzerne County sends children who've misbehaved. It's been four years since Chivarella took the stage in a hotel ballroom and announced he was running to be a county judge. Throughout his campaign, he stuck with a consistent message, positioning himself as someone who was tough on crime, and the campaign seemed to resonate with voters. Chivarella ended up winning the general election, and is now a little under halfway through his term which lasts 10 years. And throughout that time, Chivarella has been proud to work as a public servant, though recently the job took an unexpected turn when he was assigned to be a judge in juvenile court. He's not thrilled about working at what people call kitty court, but he also knows it's a right of passage for newer judges, a stepping stone towards more prominent appointments. So Chivarella decided he'd get a firsthand look at the county's juvenile justice system, and that meant coming to this squat brick building, the River Street Juvenile Detention Center. River Street serves as a holding facility for minors awaiting court hearings or placement in longer term detention, and in that sense it's like a jail for minors. And as a judge overseeing juvenile cases, Chivarella is going to be responsible for sending children to be held at this facility. So he thought it was important to come see the detention center in person, and in just a few minutes, he's supposed to meet with Sandra Brulo, who runs the day-to-day operations of the facility, and offered to give Chivarella a tour. Chivarella begins walking up a small hill leading to the entrance of the detention center. When he arrives at the front door, Brulo steps out and waves him in before closing the door against the cold. Chivarella walks inside and greets Brulo, a woman in her late 40s with highlighted hair and dark eyes that look a little cold and tired. Entering the building, Chivarella is hit with an overpowering smell of mildew. His face wrinkles, and he looks around trying to find the source. But Brulo doesn't seem to mind, she just barrels forward, and begins giving Chivarella a history of River Street. She says it's been around since 1937 and was originally a prison for women. Chivarella tries to tune out the odor and pay attention to the conversation. He nods along as Brulo continues with the history of the place and leads him down a main hallway, giving him the bigger tour. As the two walks side by side, Chivarella notices paint peeling off the cement block walls, settling like snowflakes along the floor. He can't help but point out the disrepair, telling Brulo that the hallway must be due for a paint job sometime soon. A Brulo just shrugs and says they have bigger problems. Like vermin, River Street is constantly battling infestations of rodents and cockroaches. But the picture only grows more bleak as the tour goes on. Brulo shows Chivarella a series of old jail cells that have been repurposed as workspaces. She explains this is where probation officers hold meetings with parents and government officials. Chivarella's jaw goes slack as he stares at those so-called workspaces. But Brulo doesn't seem affected by any of it. She admits that while the facility isn't great, it does pass state inspections. Chivarella doesn't say a word. There's no real point about making any fuss about vermin, mold, or peeling paint, because Brulo seems to think this facility is completely fine. So as the tour wraps up, Chivarella thanks Brulo for her time and he makes his way out into the cold winter air. He can't believe what he's just seen. That this is where the county houses some of its most endangered, invulnerable miners caught up in crime. And he can't imagine what voters would think if they ever learned how bad the conditions have gotten here at River Street. So Chivarella's going to take care of that right away. About a half hour later, Judge Mark Chivarella steps into the Zern County Courthouse, a building with a large classical rotunda and dome in laid-with stained glass. The building is a symbol of civic power and dignity. But for Chivarella, it's also a stark reminder of the terrible conditions he just witnessed at the River Street Juvenile Detention Center. Seeing the conditions there, Chivarella felt immediately driven to get a new facility constructed, a more proper place to house children in trouble. Of course Chivarella doesn't have any say over the county's budget, he's only a judge. But he does know someone who could pull the levers of political power and all the acquaintances who might be able to get the county to fund the project. Chivarella continues down a marble corridor as he makes his way to the office of Thomas McCalsky. McCalsky is a county commissioner and could hold the keys to finding budget for a new facility. Chivarella arrives at his office, knocks on the door. A moment later, McCalsky answers and greets Chivarella with a big smile. Mark, what a surprise! Hey, come on in! Hey Tom, hope it's okay, I drop by? It's always okay, yeah, yeah. What's going on? Chivarella steps into the office and shuts the door. Well, Tom, I was just over at River Street. You've been there? No, not, I mean, not in a long while. Well, it's an old building. Yeah, from the 30s, I think. We spent some money repairing it over the years. Well, I got to say, if you have, it doesn't really show. The place is in horrible condition. Well, I've heard stories from leaky pipes, some issue with the heat. No, it's worse than that. Cockroaches and rodents, the whole place smells. We've got probation officers and families taking meetings in old jail cells. Oh, really? Yeah, it's just there. I don't think that's even the half of it. So I came here straight away because I was hoping we could do something about it. Well, I'm sure we could. We can talk to the county engineer. We can get things cleaned up. Chivarella shakes his head. No, there's no cleaning up at River Street. The place is a dump. It's like putting a bandaid on a bullet wound. Well, right now, that's our only option. Is it? What about a new facility? Oh, new new construction is not cheap. Have you looked at our current budget? Oh, I get it. I know it will be tough, but we put our children here, right? McCasky is silent for a moment. Yeah, Mark, we do. Okay, this is what we're talking about. Let me sit down with the other commissioners and I'll see if we can get some traction. Thank you, Tom. A minute later, Chivarella steps back into the rotunda of the county courthouse and begins making his way to his office feeling optimistic. Chivarella knows that money doesn't just rain from the sky. The county budget is always a difficult negotiation, but the facts speak for themselves. And if the county commissioners have any sense of right and wrong, they should be willing to take action. It's late 1999 in Wilkesbury, Pennsylvania and Judge Mark Chivarella is on a mission. He's back at the Luzern County Courthouse where he met with commissioner Thomas McCasky. Chivarella thought he'd made a compelling case for a new juvenile detention center. But over the last two years, Chivarella has been frustrated to see no real progress despite his repeated follow-ups with McCasky. Chivarella has now lost his patience with the county government, but he isn't sure what else he can do given his limited power as a judge. So Chivarella decided to get some advice from a higher-ranking member of the county court, Judge Michael Conahan. Conahan is known as a powerful figure both in the local court system and the broader community. Outside his role as a judge, he's also a successful businessman and has reputation as a mover and a shaker. So Chivarella figured Conahan might be able to help out and share some ideas about how they could get a new detention center built in Luzern County. Chivarella makes his way through the Courthouse before arriving at Conahan's chambers. When he steps inside, he finds his fellow judge sitting at a large walnut desk stacked high with case files. Conahan is in his late 40s with close-cropped hair and a dowry expression. He seems to radiate influence and control and welcomes Chivarella into his office and they get down to business. Chivarella lays out his case. He offers another graphic portrayal of the current juvenile detention center and details how he's been trying to get the county commissioners to do something about it. He explains the whole process has been beyond frustrating. He keeps pressing for a new facility, but whenever he checks with the county commissioners, all he gets is lip service. He's not sure what to do next. Conahan gives Chivarella a curious look, asking why he cares so much about the detention center. Chivarella says that it's his job to put minors on the right path, but the right path can't start in a derelict facility like River Street. Conahan nods and says he agrees. But what does any of this have to do with him? Chivarella clears his throat and says he's got an idea, but he needs some advice. The commissioners keep saying it would be too expensive to construct a new juvenile detention center in Luzern County. Chivarella thinks they could save money by teaming up with other nearby counties and building a detention center that would serve all of Northeastern Pennsylvania. Chivarella knows Conahan is a savvy businessman, so he's curious what he thinks. Is this kind of joint project feasible? For the first time, Conahan's expression brightens. He tells Chivarella it's a great idea, but the problem is that going through government channels is a waste of time. The private sector is how you get things done. You need to rethink the business model, and a private four business detention center is a solid proposition. Conahan adds that he has some business associates who might be interested in this sort of opportunity. He'd be happy to reach out, engage their interest. Conahan wraps up the conversation with a note of optimism, saying that with the right connections and a good business plan, they should be able to break ground on a new facility, one worthy to house the children they're trying to save. If you've been wanting a straighter smile but are put off by the thought of the endless trips of the dentist or the high cost of braces, then I know just what you need. Bite offers clear teeth aliners that allow you to transform your smile from the comfort of your home. Bite clearer liners are doctor-directed and delivered right to your doorstep. Just take an impression mold of your mouth, preview your 3D smile, and order your all-day or at night aliners. Yes, it really is that simple. Best of all is that their thousands less than braces have monthly financing options and even take insurance. Spring is a time for new beginnings. Start your smile journey today. Go to byt.com and use Code Wondery at checkout to get your at-home impression kit for just $14.95. That's Code Wondery at bite.com for over 80% off your impression kit. It's July 2001 and Mark Chiverella is ready to share some good news with his business partner and fellow judge Michael Conahan. But getting here hasn't been easy. For the past year and a half, Chiverella has continued serving as a judge in juvenile court. He stayed true to his campaign pledge and has been dishing out tough punishments for the miners who stand before him. And along the way, Chiverella has earned some of the highest juvenile detention rates in Pennsylvania, sending away more miners than almost all of his peers. But Chiverella doesn't question the approach. He still believes that people, even children, need real incentive to follow the law and behave correctly. And there's no stronger signal than the threat of imprisonment. Still, Chiverella does struggle. He hates having to send miners to that crumbling detention center on River Street. The facility hasn't gone through any serious renovations, and Chiverella thinks it's barely equipped to handle children. But that situation could soon change. In no small part because of judge Michael Conahan. Conahan suggested that they bypass the county and turn to the private sector to build a new, for-profit detention center. Conahan brought on board a major investor named Robert Powell, an attorney and one of Conahan's friends. Powell and his business partner signed on to own and manage the new facility, which is going to be called PA Childcare. Once they had an investor, the next step was to find someone who could actually build a facility. Chiverella turned to one of his friends, Robert Miracle. Miracle owns a commercial real estate company and knows the business inside and out. After hearing the pitch, Miracle signed on two and became the builder for the project. The group then found a site for the detention center, and now they just need the financing to come through so they can break ground and begin construction. Chiverella has been pleased to see the project moving forward, but their builder and Chiverella's friend Robert Miracle just made a stunning update. Once they wrap up construction, Chiverella is going to take home an enormous amount as a finder's fee, but Chiverella doesn't feel right keeping it all to himself. So he's on his way over to the chambers of his partner, Judge Michael Conahan, planning to make an offer he believes is more than generous. A moment later, the elevator doors open and Chiverella hurries toward Judge Conahan's chambers. When he steps inside, he finds Conahan sitting behind his desk, reviewing case files. In a single, almost breathless wave, Chiverella lays it all out. He tells Conahan that once they finish construction, their builders are going to award him a finder's fee of nearly a million dollars. Conahan's eyes widen. He tells Chiverella that he's a lucky guy, and Miracle is one hell of the friend, but Chiverella points out that a finder's fee is standard practice in real estate and was built into the budget, but it is remarkable that Miracle offered to pay the fee to Chiverella. He didn't have to. Then Conahan leans back in his chair and with a sardonic grin, he asks whether Chiverella came here to brag or whether he's going to offer to buy the next round of drinks. Chiverella laughs and says he'll get the drinks, but no, he's not here to brag. Without Conahan's help, the project wouldn't have gotten off the ground. So it's only right that they split the money, 50-50. Hearing this, Conahan throws his pen in the air and says this is turning out to be a damn fine day. Chiverella laughs again, agreeing that the finder's fee is a welcome development, but what he doesn't tell Conahan is that he needs the money, now more than ever. Chiverella has been running up his credit, living beyond his means. He's been trying to keep up with some of his wealthier friends, but the spending has gotten out of hand. By now, Chiverella has a six-figure debt, but the finder's fee will allow Chiverella to pay all of it off while offering some financial security for his family. But that's all contingent on finally finishing construction. So Chiverella tells Conahan he's worried that financing is going to come through, and that could put the finder's fee in danger. Conahan shakes his head and smiles, telling Chiverella to cheer up. There's now a million dollars on the line. So one way or other, they're going to get this thing built. It's December 2001 in Pitston, Pennsylvania, about five months later. It's the afternoon of Christmas Eve, and Robert Powell is walking through an empty lot in a large industrial park. The wind is freezing and whipping at his face as Powell paces around a series of half-froves and puddles waiting for Judge Michael Conahan to finally show up. Powell is an attorney and real estate investor. He's not exactly happy to be waiting around in an industrial park on Christmas Eve, but he had to talk with his associate, Judge Conahan, and to agree to meet at the site of their soon-to-be juvenile detention center. In part, today's meeting is meant to be a tour of the site, but Powell also wanted to get some private time with Conahan so he could ask the judge a favor. Increasingly, this construction project is turning into a boondoggle. Powell has hit a number of financial roblox, and now the bank's funding is looking like he could fall through, but Powell can't let that happen. He's already made a sizable investment from his own savings, and if the project falls apart, there's a chance he could lose all of it. So Powell is hoping Conahan might have an idea, maybe a way to appease the banks and guarantee funding. Powell rubs his hands together, trying to stay warm, when Judge Michael Conahan pulls up on the gravel lock. The judge steps out of the car and takes a quick look around the site. Afternoon, Robert, and Mary Christmas. I'm Mary Christmas back at you. Welcome to the future side of PA Childcare. Not bad, not bad at all. It's a lot bigger than I thought. Yeah, we should have space for about 50 beds. Well, knowing our good friend, Mark Chibarella, how I'm sure he'll keep this place full. Well, maybe we should tell that to our builder. He's worried. What for? We got everything lined up. He's frustrated with the delays. But we all are. That's just the nature of this sort of thing. Yeah, well, Miracles, not the only one who's worried. I'm catching heat from the lenders. Well, then let's find a lender that's easier to work with. Now, I've talked to all of them. They're all saying the same thing, which is what? It's too risky. They want assurances. Judge Conahan squints, giving Powell a skeptical look. Assurances about what? Well, they want to know our business is going to be successful. That this place isn't going to sit empty. Well, look, Robert. In about two weeks, I'm taking on a new title. I'm going to be president judge in Luzerne County. Oh, what does that mean? It means I'm going to have broad power over the courts. I can sign an agreement making it so that the county only sends miners to our facility. Well, I have no problem keeping the beds occupied. You can do that. I can do that. And I assume that would take care of our problem with the banks. Well, yeah, I mean, if there's some sort of guarantee of business, yeah, getting funding shouldn't be an issue. So good. It's taking care of. Now, show me around. I want to get a full view of the site. Powell and Conahan take a walk through the industrial park, only pausing to gaze out at the bank of woods on the side of the property. But soon, the two men agree they're freezing and it's time to get out of there. So they hop in their cars and drive off. As Powell gets back on the open road, he feels some measure of relief. If Judge Conahan can guarantee that beds will be filled, this should be the final hurdle. None of the lenders are going to turn him down. And with the money in place, it won't be long before cranes and construction teams arrive on the site, a ceremonial ribbon is cut and they break ground. From Wondery, this is Episode 1 of the Kids for Cash Kickback Skate for American Scam. In our next episode, Judges Chivorella and Conahan get involved in a plan for a second detention center. But as Chivorella orders more and more miners to be detained, the business comes under scrutiny and the Judges scheme begins to unravel. If you'd like to learn more about the Kids for Cash scheme, we recommend the book Kids for Cash, Two Judges, Thousands of Children and a $2.8 million Kickback scheme by William Eckenbacher, and a documentary Kids for Cash directed by Robert May. This episode contains reenactments and dramatized details. And while in most cases, we can't know exactly what was said, all our dramatizations are based on historical research. American Scandal has hosted edited and exeked produced by me Lindsey Graham for Airship. Audio editing by Christian Perraga, sound assigned by Molly Bach, music by Lindsey Graham. This episode is written by Vanessa Gomez, edited by Christina Malsberg. Our consultant for this series is William Eckenbacher. Our senior producer is Gabe Ribbon. Executive producers are Stephanie Jens, Jenny Lauer Becken, and Marsha Louis for Wondering. Not every billionaire has the stamina, the dedication, the fire to become the most unpopular owner in sports. But not everyone's James Dolan, the dreaded owner of the New York News. Introducing Rain of Error, a new podcast series that gives you court side seats for the bench clearing free-for-all of controversies and scandals that JD has brought on. Here's a guy who inherited a fortune and a basketball team. I mean, he could be playing golf. Instead, he's made it as hobby to consistently mismanage one of the most beloved franchises in pro sports. Along the way, Dolan battles his own players, fans, celebrities, the media, politicians, even the Girl Scouts. Absolutely shocking. I'm David Green. Join me for Rain of Error as we ask the $6 billion question, why doesn't he just sell the team? Follow Rain of Error wherever you get your podcasts. You can listen early and add free on the Amazon Music or Wondria.