SCRANTON - The former owner of two for-profit juvenile detention facilities was sentenced Friday to 18 months in prison for his role in a kickback scheme that led the state Supreme Court to vacate the convictions of thousands of juveniles who appeared before a now-jailed Pennsylvania judge.

Robert Powell pleaded guilty in 2009 to concealing a felony and an accessory charge in the "kids for cash" scandal.

Powell, 52, testified this year that he was forced to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to former Luzerne County Court Judges Mark A. Ciavarella Jr. and Michael T. Conahan for their support of his two private centers.

He said the judges extorted more than $725,000 from him after they shut down the dilapidated county-run detention center and sent juveniles to his new lockup outside Wilkes-Barre and to a sister facility in Western Pennsylvania.

Powell, whose centers raked in millions of dollars as a result of its contract with Luzerne County, did not address the court Friday.

In a Nov. 1 letter to U.S. District Judge Edwin Kosik, he apologized for his conduct and said he should have reported the judges immediately instead of taking part in their scheme.

Sentencing guidelines called for a punishment of 27 to 33 months in prison, but Powell was given credit for cooperating with the government.

The businessman and lawyer wore a wire and recorded incriminating conversations with Conahan and Ciavarella, leading Conahan to plead guilty.

Powell offered crucial testimony in Ciavarella's February trial and wore a wire against a third judge in an unrelated case. Ciavarella and Conahan are serving lengthy prison sentences.

"Mr. Powell's cooperation was vital to the success of this investigation and the prosecutions that resulted from it," U.S. Attorney Peter Smith said outside court Friday. "Without Mr. Powell's vital cooperation, it might have been a much more difficult, much longer, if not impossible, process."

Prosecutors sought a sentence of 12 to 18 months. Powell's attorney, Joseph D'Andrea, said his client deserved an even more lenient sentence.

"Bob found himself being muscled and pressured by two very corrupt and evil men who sat as judges in Luzerne County," D'Andrea told Kosik.

The judge, while recognizing Powell's cooperation, said Powell had benefited financially from his participation in the "cabal" that ran Luzerne County.

"He could have told the judges to go to hell," Kosik said.