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'Kids for Cash' victims speaking out

More than 300 people are expected to tell their story at a civil hearing taking place in federal court over the next two weeks in Wilkes-Barre.

WILKES-BARRE, Pa. — For the next two weeks, the federal courthouse in Wilkes-Barre will be seeing more than 300 people come through its doors to tell their story about how former Luzerne County Judges Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan wrongfully sent them to private juvenile detention centers for kickbacks in what is known as the infamous "Kids for Cash Scandal."

"Resisting arrest, which I gave a police officer, the middle finger. That's a first amendment right," said Ashley Acri when she told reporters what she was sent to Judge Ciavarella for. "I didn't do anything else, and no one believed me, and when I went away, no one believed me. No one believed I did nothing else. 'You had to have done something much bigger than that to get that much time.' No, I didn't."

Ashley Acri of Drums tells Newswatch 16 she was a straight-A student with no record, and for that, she was sent away ten months by then-county-judge Mark Ciavarella.

"Basically they took me from the courtroom, and brought me to PA Child Care, and threw me in there, and that was it. No lawyer, no nothing," she added.

But Ashley says she had it easy compared to others.

For Mark Aguilar of Wilkes-Barre, his first appearance in front of Ciavarella set off a chain of events that still impact his life today.

"When he gave it to me, he was giving me crazy numbers, and not once or twice he did to me three or four times, I can't even remember how many times as a child, you know, my first time I think I was 13 years old when I went in," said Aguilar of Wilkes-Barre.

Mark says after his first stint in a detention center for possession of drug paraphernalia, he was treated differently, and it caused him to act out and see the Judge again.

In court, Mark said being in front of Ciavarella was a guarantee you'd be going away.

"He basically took a couple years, he took all my childhood," added Aguilar. "I didn't come home until I was almost 18. I was 13, and I didn't come home until I was 18. so I don't have, I only knew jail. I thought that I thought that was normal to me. I thought that was normal here, know what I'm sayin'?"

"I forgive him; I do I forgive him. There's other kids who had bigger problems than I did. So I want you to know that I graduated college, and I forgive you," said Acri when reporters asked what she wanted Ciavarella to know.

Her story and hundreds of others are being told over the next two weeks to a federal judge in Wilkes-Barre during in a civil hearing to determine the amount of damages owed to the victims.

"I really don't know, I'm not really here to search for monies or nothing like that," said Aguilar. "I just want him to just do his time flat out, just do it, do it. Don't complain, don't have to sit down like everybody else sat down that he sent him, you know? He damaged 1000s of 1000s of people's lives. I'm one of them. I have friends that killed themselves over this. You know I'm sorry, but they killed themselves over this, you know, hung themselves, not just one, a couple of friends of mine, close."

Mark Aguilar says he's also here because of the impact that had on his single mother and parents of victims.

"My whole time she didn't have me she couldn't, she couldn't nothing. She couldn't even visit me," he said about his mother.

"I'm here to support my son, and I paid for everything," said Ronnie Brea of Wilkes-Barre. "It was all out of my pocket for him, everything that was going on, and so my thing is I don't know why the parents isn't being compensated because the parents are the ones that there was were just as well as bad for the kids."

Some like Ashley say they aren't here for money, just justice for those families who made the ultimate sacrifice at the hands of these judges who quote "sold the rights of children for silver," as their lawyer said in the courtroom during opening arguments.

"Something for the kids who lost their family; people died because of this. People committed suicide because of this. I think those kids deserve something," said Acri.

The damages will be up to Federal Judge Christopher C. Conner for the middle district of Pennsylvania. He's expected to hear testimony from close to 350 victims like the ones we heard from today over the next two weeks.

Neither Ciavarella nor Conahan were in the courtroom today, they have waived their right to be present here, but both are still serving sentences for these crimes.