The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

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March 16, 2009

UPDATE: Judge weighs in on youth care, casts doubt on Crossroads� claims

MERCER COUNTY — Mercer County�s president judge defended the placement of most troubled county youth in Keystone Adolescent Center by saying it was the best option for those kids.

�Placements are based upon the best program that fits the child,� said Common Pleas President Judge Francis J. Fornelli.

Jarrett Samuels, co-owner of Crossroads Inc. -- a Farrell residential treatment center for troubled kids that competes with Keystone, West Salem Township -- argued Thursday before Mercer County commissioners that the county could have saved $235,000 in 2007 alone using Crossroads over Keystone.

According Alex Giroski, one of Samuels� Crossroads colleagues who spoke during the meeting at Farrell Muncicipal Building, �Something�s rotten in Denmark.�

Samuels� and Giroski�s protests raised the specter of two Luzerne County judges in Eastern Pa. accused of taking $2.6 million in kickbacks for placing juveniles in private facilities.

But Fornelli said Mercer County�s placements are at the recommendation of individual caseworkers and probation officers. And those individuals� recommendations are approved by their superiors.

In addition, he said all four of Mercer County�s Common Pleas judges make placements, and that all four favor Keystone over Crossroads.

�There�s no one judge feeding cases into one facility. So for something to come off which isn�t right, it has to pass through multiple layers and be uniform through four judges,� Fornelli said. �It�s just crazy,� he said of the �rotten in Denmark� comment.

Fornelli said he has advised the heads of children and youth services and juvenile probation to report any unfair connections between Keystone and the county agencies who recommend them. Any reports of favoritism will be looked into by an independent investigator.

In spite of his skepticism, Fornelli added, �If someone would have been questioning in Luzerne, this would have been stopped a long time ago.� He encouraged whistle blowers to come forward.

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