Nine former and current Philadelphia Traffic Court judges have been charged by federal prosecutors with conspiring to fix traffic tickets.
The indictments mark one of the most sweeping criminal probes of Philadelphia judges since the Roofers scandal of the late 1980s, in which some Common Pleas Court judges accepted bribes from union figures.
Among those indicted Thursday are Michael J. Sullivan, who has been a judge since 2006 and was appointed administrative judge by the Supreme Court in April 2011 before being replaced in that role at the end of 2011; Michael Lowry, who has been a judge since 2008; suspended Judge Robert Mulgrew, who took the bench in 2008 and is already facing charges for an alleged scheme to defraud the state Department of Community and Economic Development; former Judge Willie Singletary, who took the bench in 2008 and was judicially disciplined twice for showing photographs of his genitals on his camera phone to a contractor working at Traffic Court and suggesting to a motorcycle club that he would fix their tickets; retired Judge Thomasine Tynes, who took the bench in 1989 and stepped down last year; Mark A. Bruno, a senior magisterial district judge from Chester County; H. Warren Hogeland, a senior magisterial district judge from Bucks County; Kenneth Miller, a senior magisterial district judge from Delaware County; and Fortunato Perri Sr., who took the bench in 1997 and became a senior judge in 2007, and was the administrative judge appointed by the Supreme Court from 2000 to 2002.
Pennsylvania’s prosecutor of judicial misconduct, Robert A. Graci of the Judicial Conduct Board, filed a petition Thursday afternoon requesting the suspension of the judges pending the final disposition of their federal criminal charges.
Also charged was the court’s former director of records, William Hird, and two local businessmen, Henry P. Alfano and Robert Moy. Those last two defendants allegedly sought successfully to have tickets fixed.
There was a wiretap in the case, including Perri allegedly telling Alfano, “‘When you call, I move, brother, believe me. I move everybody.’”
Hogeland, Perri and Miller were charged in informations.
Fifty separate citations were fixed, federal investigators said, according to a statement by the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
The judges and court administrator “used their positions at Traffic Court to manipulate Traffic Court cases outside the judicial process, thereby achieving favorable outcomes on traffic citations for politically connected individuals, friends, family members, associates and others with influential positions,” according to the indictment. “This manipulation, or ‘ticket fixing,’ consisted of: one, dismissing tickets outright; two, finding the ticketholder not guilty after a ‘show’ hearing; three, adjudicating the ticket in a manner to reduce fines and avoid the assignment of points to a driver’s record; and, four, obtaining continuances of trial dates to ‘judge-shop,’ that is, find a Traffic Court judge who would accede to a request for preferential treatment.”
The charges include 49 counts of wire fraud, 18 counts of mail fraud, one count of conspiracy, four counts of perjury and five counts of false statements to the FBI.
Lowry, Mulgrew and Tynes are charged with committing perjury before the federal grand jury, and Singletary and Hird are charged with lying to the FBI when asked about ticket-fixing.
While everyone is presumed to be innocent, Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Judge Gary Glazer, who was appointed to administer Traffic Court, said, “These charges are the next logical step in the long and difficult process in cleaning up this court.”
Between three and five senior judges from other counties are assisting in the Traffic Court, Glazer said, and “there will be no interruption in the business of this court.”
“The justice system will ultimately prevail as these prosecutions are further pursued by the U.S. attorney and the defendants are afforded their opportunity to respond,” Justice J. Michael Eakin, the liaison justice to the FJD, said in a statement. “In the meantime, my colleagues and I have confidence in the leadership of Common Pleas Judge Gary Glazer, a former federal prosecutor who was specially appointed by the chief justice to administer Traffic Court.”
Glazer will continue his reform efforts, Eakin said in his statement, and that magisterial district judges and senior judges from other parts of Pennsylvania, “who are firmly dedicated to the principles outlined in the oath which each affirmed upon taking office,” would be supplied to the Traffic Court in order to keep the court functioning on time.
When U.S. Attorney Zane Memeger of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania gave a news conference Thursday, he did not take any questions.
Perri got Hird promoted from his personal assistant, and hired Alfano’s business for a no-bid towing and storage contract regarding “vehicles designated by Philadelphia law enforcement agencies,” according to the indictment.
Sullivan also is alleged to have assisted patrons of his bar, Fireside Tavern, by placing tickets they wanted fixed in a box behind the bar.
The alleged practice of giving consideration to both people politically connected to the Philadelphia Democratic City Committee or the relatives, friends and associates of judges and court staff was kept covert, the indictment said. “Traffic Court judges and employees undertook steps to conceal the system of ‘consideration,’ by shredding paperwork, speaking to another in code, and trusting only certain individuals and not others to carry out the scheme.”
In alleged exchange for having Perri’s aid in fixing tickets, Alfano, who has business in towing, scrap metal and other things, allegedly gave Perri free car repairs, videos and seafood.
Moy, who knew Tynes and Singletary, advertised to prospective customers in China News Weekend that he “tackles the traffic ticket, and guarantees no points or fewer points. Help you quickly regain your vehicle that is towed away or impounded in Philadelphia.” Moy said in court Thursday that he works as a court interpreter.
William Brennan, the attorney for Singletary, said in an interview that the government’s theory was that every ticket that was issued would have resulted in a guilty verdict “on the lead charge,” and there could be weaknesses regarding the false statement charge because it was most likely not recorded and the record of interviews can be prepared days or weeks later.
Sullivan’s counsel, Henry Hockeimer of Ballard Spahr, said in a statement that his client “never asked for, nor did he receive, any bribe, kickback or anything of value in exchange for performing his duties as an elected Traffic Court judge … Judge Sullivan handled each case before him fairly and competently.”
Michael Schwartz, who appeared for Lowry, declined comment and said he will not be representing him in the future. Tynes does not yet have counsel.
Other attorneys for the other defendants could not be reached immediately Thursday.
In the wake of the federal investigation, the First Judicial District, under the imprimatur of its former Supreme Court liaison justice, Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille, hired consultancy Chadwick Associates to perform an internal investigation of the court. That report painted the court as having “two tracks of justice — one for the connected and another for the unwitting general public.”
Castille was removed as liaison justice by the other justices a few weeks after the report was issued.
Then earlier this month, the Republican state Senate majority leader announced that he will introduce legislation that, if enacted, would abolish the Philadelphia Traffic Court and transfer its caseload to Philadelphia Municipal Court.
The internal report suggested several potential structural reform options, including one that mirrors the proposal of state Senator Dominic Pileggi, R-Delaware, to eliminate the Traffic Court entirely and transfer its jurisdiction to the Philadelphia Municipal Court.
In light of Pileggi’s intent to introduce legislation, the FJD has formed a committee that has transmitted some ideas to the General Assembly, Glazer said.
But there is a limit to how much input court leaders can provide on Traffic Court, Glazer said.
“One of the difficulties is that the Supreme Court may ultimately have to rule on the validity of any legislation,” Glazer said. “As a judicial branch our hands are somewhat tied in being too involved and ultimately it’s going to be a political decision: What does the public want? What kind of court do they want? What does the legislature want?”
Other considerations include the Traffic Court’s lease on its current space, which doesn’t run out until 2024, as well as a computer contract, Glazer said. Glazer also observed that a primary election is scheduled for this May, and candidates may be seeking to be elected for seats on the Traffic Court this year.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Denise Wolf and Anthony Wzorek. U.S. District Senior Judge Robert F. Kelly has been assigned to hear the case.
Most of the defendants entered not-guilty pleas except for those who still needed to arrange for counsel.
Ben Present and Zack Needles of The Legal staff contributed reporting to this story.