Pennsylvania Judge Convicted in Alleged 'Kids for Cash' Scheme

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(PHILADELPHIA) -- A former juvenile court judge in Pennsylvania could face more than 10 years in prison after being convicted in what prosecutors called a "kids for cash" scheme.

Prosecutors say former Luzerne County Judge Mark Ciavarella used children as pawns, locking them up unjustly in a plot to get rich. Ciavarella is accused of taking nearly $1 million in kickbacks from owners of private detention centers in exchange for placing juvenile defendants at their facilities, often for minor crimes. Ciavarella claims that the payment he received from a developer of the PA Child Care facility was legal and denies that he ever incarcerated kids for money.

"Absolutely never took a dime to send a kid anywhere," said Ciavarella.

Ciavarella, 61, was found guilty of 12 out of 39 charges on Friday, including racketeering, money laundering and conspiracy, in connection with the nearly $1 million payment from Robert Mericle, the developer of the PA Child Care center. He plans to appeal. Ciavarella was acquitted on charges of bribery and extortion in relation to additional payments from the center's builder and owner.

Families complain of Ciavarella's rapid-fire brand of justice and trials that lasted only minutes with even first-time offenders sent to detention centers.

In one reported case, Ciavarella sentenced a child to two years for joyriding in his mom's car. In another, he sentenced a college-bound high school girl to three months in juvenile detention for creating a website that made fun of her assistant principal. Some of the kids he ordered locked up were as young as 10.

"The numbers of children going into placement in Luzerne County tended to be two to three times higher than in other counties," said Marsha Levick, deputy director of the Juvenile Law Center in Philadelphia.

In October 2009, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court dismissed 4,000 juvenile delinquency cases Ciavarella handled from Jan. 1, 2003 to May 31, 2008. The court said that it "cannot have any confidence that Ciavarella decided any Luzerne County juvenile case fairly and impartially while he labored under the specter of his self-interested dealings with the facilities," and called Ciavarella's actions a "travesty of juvenile justice."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Stepmother Accused of Murdering Disabled 10-Year-Old

Photo Courtesy - ABC News (handout)(HICKORY, N.C.) -- The stepmother of a disabled North Carolina girl who was found dead and dismembered was charged Monday with murder.

Prosecutors said they would soon announce murder charges against stepmother Elisa Baker, and the cause of death for 10-year-old Zahra Baker.

Zahra, who lost a leg and much of her vision in a childhood battle with cancer, was reported missing Oct. 9, but police believe she had disappeared weeks before that date. On Oct. 27, police found a prosthetic leg and matched the serial number to the one she used.

On Nov. 3, cops found Zahra's remains scattered over several locations they were guided to by Elisa Baker.

Police allege that in the hours after Zahra's parents reported her missing, Elisa Baker penned a bogus $1 million ransom note.

Before Zahra's body was found, Elisa Baker was indicted for obstructing justice. She is currently in jail awaiting trial.

Two weeks before police found the girl's remains, Elisa Baker indicated in a jailhouse letter that the child was dead, but expressed no remorse or guilt. Instead, she felt sorry for herself and made vague accusations against her husband, Adam Baker.

In the letters, written to crime memorabilia dealer Eric Gein, Elisa Baker said Adam did something "horrifying" to Zahra after she was dead. Adam Baker's attorney told ABC News in November that those claims were nothing more than a "desperate" attempt at distraction.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Warship and Helicopters Tracking Yacht Hijacked by Somali Pirates

Image Courtesy - ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- A US Navy warship on Monday continued to track a yacht holding four Americans that was seized by pirates between the coasts of Yemen and Somalia, authorities reported.

The Americans, sailing the world on a Christian mission to distribute bibles, were ambushed by pirates in dangerous waters nearly 300 miles off the Somali coast. On board the yacht were Jean and Scot Adam from California and Phyllis MacKay and Bob Riggle from Washington State.

The last time pirates targeted an American vessel -- the Maersk Alabama in 2009 -- the heist ended with all but one of the pirates killed by US Navy sharpshooters.

The challenge for international warships now is keeping the pirates from making it to the Somali shore where they and their hostages can easily disappear.

Back in California, church-goers are praying for a quick return home for the hostages.

A U.S. Embassy spokesman on Saturday said officials were assessing options and "possible responses" to the situation.

It is believed that Somali pirates currently have 29 ships in their possession and are holding 660 crewmembers hostage.

The 58-foot S/V Quest is owned by the Adams, who have been sailing the boat around the world for the past seven years. As they approached the notoriously hostile waters off the Horn of Africa, they cut back using their radios and satellite systems so their location couldn't be tracked by pirates, but they were still found.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Restaurant Shakes Up Indiana Town with Billboard Campaign

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(SOUTH BEND, Ind.) -- A northern Indiana restaurant is in hot water after displaying a controversial billboard campaign.

The South Bend-based restaurant said it did not intend for its billboards to be controversial, but rather, to be noticed. 

After numerous complaints, Hacienda took down billboards referring to the 1978 Jonestown cult massacre.  More than 900 people died when they drank punch laced with cyanide.

The Hacienda billboard featured the picture of a mixed drink that read, "We're like a cult with better Kool-Aid...To die for."

Hacienda executives have apologized for the campaign, saying the restaurant should not have used the billboards.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio 


Company Apologizes After Suspending Employee for Taking Call From Marine Son

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WOODBURY, Tenn.) -- A Tennessee company has rewritten office policy and apologized to a military mom-employee after suspending her for taking a cell phone call at work from her son in Afghanistan, where he is stationed as a Marine.

Crane Interiors of Woodbury suspended Teresa Danford for three days after she answered a call last Monday from Lance Cpl. Mark Rhyne. He has been in Afghanistan for seven months and only gets access to a satellite phone once a month.

Citing the use of phones at the factory as a safety issue, Crane Interiors, which makes marine upholstery, not only suspended Danford Tuesday but warned her that a repeat offense would result in termination. She was reportedly aware of the policy, arguing, however, that the company knew of her son's limited access to a phone.

Crane Interiors backtracked after the ensuing public outrage, issuing an apology. Crane Interior regrets the incident and has not only reinstated Danford's pay but instituted a special policy allowing employees to take calls from military personnel serving overseas, Human Resources Manager Larry Officer said.

Under the new policy, employees will have to inform their supervisors that they have relatives or loved ones in the military and will have to take calls off the factory floor.

When asked if it would be safe for Danford to take such a call now without risk, Officer said, "Definitely."

Back at work this week, Danford reportedly said she is comfortable with the new procedures.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Teen Speaks Out About Alleged Rape by Cruise Line Employee

Photo Courtesy - Dylan McCord/U.S. Navy via Getty Images (file)(MIAMI) -- When Darla and Enoch, who asked that their last names not be used, took their teenage daughter on an eight-day Caribbean cruise, the family never expected their dream vacation would turn into a nightmare.

After having trouble falling asleep one night during their 2009 Carnival cruise, Taylor, who was then 14, said she left her parents' cabin and went alone to an upper deck of the ship "Freedom" to write in her journal. It was there, she said, that Heri Krispiyanto, a 30-year-old Carnival cruise line employee from Indonesia who waited on the family during meals, found her and then raped her.

"He pulled me into an employee-only room," she said. "I asked him what he was doing and he told me that he was going to take care of me.

"He raped me, I kept saying, 'No,' but he didn't care," she said of the alleged rape. "He told me not to tell my parents, and he just unlocked the door and let me go."

After it was over, Taylor said she was shaking and afraid as she returned to her parents' cabin, but she didn't tell them what had happened. Even after returning home to Oklahoma, Taylor kept the incident a secret from her parents for the next three months until she became severely depressed.

After Taylor finally told her parents in August 2009, they were horrified. When Enoch heard about his daughter's alleged rape, he called the FBI but, by then, Krispiyanto was back in Indonesia. Nine months passed before the FBI located him at a U.S. port, while he was working for a different Carnival cruise ship.

Charles Lipcon of Miami, a cruise ship litigation attorney who represented Taylor and her family, said when the FBI first interviewed Krispyanto, he denied any wrongdoing.

"The FBI gave him a lie detector test and the waiter flunked the lie detector test," Lipcon said. "Then the waiter said, 'Oh, yeah, I did have sex with Taylor, but it was consensual.' Well, you can't have consensual sex with a 14-year-old. They're too young to consent and that's what led to the prosecution."

Lipcon and Taylor's family sued Carnival for sexual assault committed by a crew member. Krispiyanto later pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of sex abuse of a minor and is serving a 3-year prison sentence in Seminole County Jail in Orlando, Fla.

A Carnival cruise line representative released a statement to ABC News apologizing again to Taylor and her parents: "We go to tremendous lengths to ensure a secure and enjoyable vacation environment for the more than 4 million passengers who sail with us each year. ... We are truly sorry that this tragic crime occurred and again want to express our deepest apologies to the victim and her family.”

Safety on cruises has become such a huge issue that Congress held hearings in 2006 and 2007 where they asked victims of alleged cruise ship crimes to testify. In July 2010, the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act was passed and signed into law.

The law now requires cruise ships to report all allegations of crimes to the U.S. Coast Guard and the FBI, maintain functioning electronic surveillance cameras and use rape kits to collect evidence in cases of sexual assault.

Taylor, now 16, and her family settled their suit out of court with Carnival, and agreed not to disclose the settlement amount. However, they refused to sign a gag order, because, they said, they wanted to speak out about their ordeal.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Midwest Winter Storm Causes Messy Commute; Moves Eastward

Photo Courtesy - ABC News(MINNEAPOLIS) -- Just when Americans thought they finally had a break from winter weather, a snowstorm stretching across the upper Midwest and heading eastward has forced the cancelation of more than 1,000 flights and caused travel hazards throughout roadways in the country.

In Minnesota, drivers struggled to get around Sunday in whiteout conditions that caused hundreds of fender benders and spin-outs.  The majority of the state is under either a blizzard warning or winter storm warning, and the Minneapolis area could see up to 15 inches of snow by Monday afternoon.

In western Wisconsin, a string of accidents occurred Sunday along Interstate 94, where cars collided, spun out or got stuck in snow-covered ditches.  Most of the state remains under a winter storm warning and another 1 to 3 inches of snow is possible by Monday night, according to the National Weather Service.

Over in Michigan, drivers from Grand Rapids to Detriot had to stop their vehicles Sunday to clear their windshields as the storm moved in and rapidly diminished visibility.  Across the state, plows and salt trucks were out, trying to stay ahead of the rapidly deteriorating road conditions.  A winter storm warning remains in Michigan, where 6 to 10 inches of snow fell Sunday night into Monday morning, according to the National Weather Service.

Elsewhere, in the Northeast, winter storm warnings and winter weather advisories remain in effect until late Monday.  In New York City, Philadelphia, Connecticut, and Rhode Island up to four inches of snow are expected to fall, while the western parts of New York and Pennsylvania could see about half a foot of snow.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Services for Customs Agent Killed in Mexico Begin Monday

Photo Courtesy - U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement(BROWNSVILLE, Texas) -- A visitation and rosary service will be held in Brownsville, Texas Monday for the U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agent that was killed by gunmen in Mexico last week.

Special Agent Jaime Zapata and another agent were driving between Mexico City and Monterrey on Feb. 15 when they were attacked by ten gunmen, leaving Zapata fatally wounded and the other agent with injuries to the arm and leg, according to U.S. officials.

According to The Brownsville Herald, the viewing and rosary service for Zapata will be held at the Brownsville Events Center.  His funeral Mass will be held on Tuesday morning at the same location, followed by a procession to the Rose Lawn Memorial Gardens in Brownsville, where Zapata will be buried.

The agent's viewing, rosary service, and funeral Mass will be open to the public.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


University of Arizona to Announce New Center for Civil Discourse

President Obama speaking at the memorial service held at the University of Arizona’s McKale Memorial Center for the victims of the Jan. 8 shootings in Tucson. Photo Courtesy - The White House/Chuck Kennedy(TUCSON, Ariz.) -- The University of Arizona will unveil a new, nonpartisan center Monday, nearly three months after shootings in Tucson left six people dead and 13 others injured, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

According to The Washington Post, the National Institute for Civil Discourse will focus on civility in political debate and will be funded by private donations.  The center will be chaired by former Presidents Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush, and co-chaired by former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and former Senate Majority Leader Thomas Daschle.

Former Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, President Ronald Reagan's chief of staff Kenneth M. Duberstein, Fox News anchor Greta Van Susteren, director of Harvard University's Institute of Politics Trey Grayson, and former Rep. Jim Kolbe of Arizona will serve as board members.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Delta Flight Experiences Engine Failure, Makes Emergency Landing

Photo Courtesy - Delta Air Lines (file)(FT. LAUDERDALE, Fla.) -- A Delta flight carrying 140 passengers from Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., was forced to make an emergency landing shortly after takeoff Sunday.

Delta Flight 1846 to Minneapolis experienced engine trouble, according to a Broward County spokesperson, and returned to Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. The sheriff’s office said pieces of what appeared to be engine parts were recovered near an entrance to Port Everglades.

No one was hurt in the incident. The airline said passengers were rebooked on other flights.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio