The Ciavarella trial: Where are they now?

Feb. 17—Thursday marks 10 years since former Luzerne County Judge Mark A. Ciavarella Jr. was convicted in federal court for the "kids-for-cash" scandal. Here's an update on the key players in the case.

Former Luzerne County Judge Mark A. Ciavarella Jr.:

Ciavarella was convicted in federal court on Feb. 18, 2011 of 12 of 39 charges alleging he took bribes and kickbacks while serving as a judge. He was later sentenced to 28 years in prison. Ciavarella, 70, remains jailed at Federal Correctional Institution-Ashland in eastern Kentucky. His expected release date is June 18, 2035. A federal judge overturned three charges, but later refused to reduce his sentence. That same judge in January rejected Ciavarella's request for compassionate release due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Former Luzerne County Judge Michael Conahan:

Conahan pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 17 1/2 years in federal prison, but in June he was granted early release from a Florida federal prison due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Conahan, 68, is now under home confinement and reports to a Residential Reentry Management field office in Miami. He's expected to remain under Bureau of Prisons supervision until Aug. 19, 2026. Conahan and his wife now live in a $1.05 million home in a private gated community known as The Estuary along the waterfront in Delray Beach, Florida.

Attorney Robert Powell:

Powell, co-owner of the juvenile detention centers, was disbarred and sentenced to 18 months in federal prison after pleading guilty for his role in paying $770,000 in kickbacks to Ciavarella and Conahan. He was released from prison on April 16, 2013. Powell, 61, and his wife now live in a $2.38 million home in the private gated Frenchman's Reserve Country Club golf community in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.

Developer Robert Mericle:

Mericle, the developer of the juvenile detention centers, paid $2.1 million to the judges and was charged with failing to disclose to investigators and a grand jury that he knew the judges were defrauding the government by failing to report the money on their taxes. Mericle, 57, served one year in federal prison and was released on May 29, 2015. He continues to lead his commercial real estate and construction firm that draws national and worldwide companies to the region.

U.S. District Judge Edwin Kosik:

Kosik, who presided over the Ciavarella trial and sentenced the four defendants involved in the judicial scandal, died in June 2019 at age 94. Kosik, a federal judge since 1986, had been on inactive status since February 2017 due to health reasons.

Attorney Al Flora Jr.:

Flora, the former chief Public Defender in Luzerne County, served as Ciavarella's lead attorney during his trial. He is semi-retired after practicing law for 44 years.

Attorney William Ruzzo:

Ruzzo, who was co-counsel in Ciavarella's trial, died in September 2018 at age 77.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Gordon Zubrod:

Zubrod, who gave the opening and closing statements at Ciavarella's trial, is retired from the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Assistant U.S. Attorney William Houser:

Houser, who cross-examined Ciavarella during his trial, still works for the U.S. Attorney's Office.

U.S. Attorney Peter Smith:

Smith, who was U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Pennsylvania at the time of the trial, retired in September 2016 after more than six years on the job.

Sandy Fonzo:

Fonzo, who famously shouted at Ciavarella outside the federal courthouse in Scranton after the verdict, is living at a rented house in Harveys Lake with her dog "Justice" and works as a home health physical therapist.

PA Child Care and Western PA Child Care:

Both facilities, once co-owned by Powell and business partner Gregory Zappala, closed permanently on Nov. 6, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services. After the judicial scandal, Zappala assumed sole ownership of the facilities, PA Child Care in Pittston Twp. and Western PA Child Care in Butler County. Zappala, listed as president of the parent company of the facilities, Mid-Atlantic Youth Services, notified the department in a letter last year that both facilities would close and the buildings would be sold.

Contact the writer:

570-821-2055; @cvbobkal