Niki Taylor set a modeling record, gracing six covers in one month during the 1990's. Now the former supermodel has gone from the runway to the road - traveling the country for Reader's Digest. She's a spokesperson for the magazine's campaign called "We Hear You America." The magazine is donating $5 million dollars to community programs that receive the most "cheers" on its website. The Reader's Digest team is now in the final-25-cities leg of the campaign's 100-city tour. Taylor is proud to be part of the project. It brought her to Atlanta where CNN's Don Lemon got a chance to talk to the mother of three about her past and her future.
From CNN Anchor Don Lemon:
I had barely made it in the door at work on Saturday when a CNN producer grabbed my arm and walked me to my desk. He kept saying, "You've got to see this video. You've got to see it."
"What is it?" I asked.
"It's a mom. She's in anguish," he said. "She screams at a judge who sentenced her son. Then he killed himself."
"The judge killed himself?"
"No," he said. "Just watch."
So I sat at my desk. He pulled up the video and my jaw nearly hit the floor.
The former judge had just exited the courthouse where he had been found guilty of racketeering and money laundering in a so-called "kids for cash" incarceration scheme. The woman exploded with rage. "Do you remember my son? Do you remember my son?" she screamed. "He was an all-star wrestler and he's gone! He shot himself in the heart!"
Her voice gave me chills. On her face was an odd mix of sadness, pain and pure rage.
"What happened to her?" I wanted to know. "Why is she so upset with that man?"
Then the entire wretched story rolled out. The mom was Sandy Fonzo. Her son took his own life after that man, Judge Mark Ciavarella, had sentenced Fonzo's 17-year-old son, Edward Kenzakowski, to six months in a Pennsylvania detention center for possession of drug paraphernalia.
The sentence seemed excessive to everyone because, according to Kenzakowski's mother, it was his first offense. And usually in such cases, especially teenagers, it is presumed the judge will be lenient in his ruling. But Judge Ciavarella was anything but lenient. And Fonzo says her son never recovered from the ordeal and eventually took his own life.
As fate would have it, the feds in Pennsylvania became suspicious of similar rulings by Ciavarella and launched an investigation. Ciavarella was found guilty of accepting nearly $1 million in kickbacks for sending thousands of teens to a juvenile facility owned by some of his friends.
"Call this mom. Let's get her on tonight," I said.
"We've already making the calls," replied my executive producer.
So our entire team just sat there quietly, fingers crossed, praying that Sandy Fonzo would come on CNN to tell her story.
For hours, we heard nothing. But right in the middle of the show, as I was interviewing an attorney about Ciavarella's case, my producer spoke into my earpiece saying, "Tell the audience we have the mom. She'll be on live in the next hour."
I continued on with the show. And in the commercial break before the interview, I asked Fonzo how she was doing. She told me she didn't know how she was doing, and that she and her family were basically numb. She told me she was nervous.
"You have no need to be nervous," I told her. "I got you." I wanted her to feel that talking to me was no different than talking to a concerned friend or neighbor. I thought about all the women in my life with sons and what they would do if they lost one of them. I wanted Sandy Fonzo to get it off her chest. And I was going to give her the opportunity to tell the world.
The interview went well. And her answer to my final question brought it home for me and for anyone who saw the interview. I said, "Can you ever forgive this judge?"
And in her own sobering words, fighting back tears, Fonzo responded: "No never, never. There is no justice. [Ciavarella] will never receive my sentence. What I have to live with [is] every day of my life without my son. [Ciavarella] left on that beautiful day yesterday to go back with his family. I have nothing anymore. Nothing. It was all for nothing. It was all for greed and for more and more. He never had enough. He took everything from me. And I'll never, never forgive him, no!"
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