Ex-Philadelphia Traffic Court Judge Robert Mulgrew has been sentenced to 30 months in prison for a scheme to defraud the state Department of Community and Economic Development out of state grant funds awarded to nonprofits.
U.S. District Judge C. Darnell Jones II of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania delivered the sentence Wednesday, almost a year after Mulgrew pleaded guilty to mail fraud, conspiracy to commit mail fraud and filing a false tax return related to the scheme.
In addition to 30 months’ incarceration, Mulgrew received three years of probation and must pay the state $199,000 in restitution, with payment installments beginning immediately. Mulgrew has already paid $123,000 in restitution, penalties and interest to the Internal Revenue Service.
Jones told attorneys and members of the gallery in his courtroom that the sentence was intended to reflect the seriousness of Mulgrew’s crimes and to help restore the public’s trust in its leaders.
“Corruption by those entrusted with the public’s money destroys the public’s trust in government. Too often we are of the mindset that ‘public corruption exists, so what?’ That … cannot and must not be,” Jones said. “The beacon, the guiding star must be a firm belief and demonstration of the right of persons to do all that is necessary to demonstrate to the public that politicians, public servants, those who would use the public’s monies are honest law-abiding citizens.”
Mulgrew and Lorraine Dispaldo, a former administrative aide to state Rep. Bill Keller, D-Philadelphia, were charged by prosecutors with improperly steering much of the $397,000 awarded to Community to Police Communications to purchase communications equipment for the police as well as to protect law enforcement officers by purchasing materials to secure vacant lots and buildings, as well as $460,000 awarded to the Friends of Dickinson Square to maintain the square and the surrounding area.
Instead of using the funds to maintain Dickinson Square Park, in ways such as buying park benches and landscape materials, and to purchase communications equipment for the police, as well as to purchase materials to protect police by securing the vacant lots and buildings, the defendants “paid tens of thousands of dollars in grant funds to Mulgrew’s relatives and associates, including the teenage sons of his friends, and to [Keller's] lifelong friends, for work purportedly done on behalf of FDS and CPC,” federal authorities alleged in the indictment.
Mulgrew was the vice president of the Friends of Dickinson Square at the same time that he was an employee of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 98, and later at the same time he was a traffic court judge starting in January 2008, according to the indictment.
The federal grand jury further accused Mulgrew and Dispaldo of using grant funds for their personal expenditures, the indictment said, with money being put toward pickup trucks, an $827 camera, cigarettes and Christmas trees, among other things.
Grant resources also were used to address cleanup requests made by Keller’s constituents and to pay the cleaner/office-runner in Keller’s office, the indictment said.
Dispaldo pleaded guilty in April to 30 counts of mail fraud, one count of wire fraud, one count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, four counts of filing false personal income-tax returns, and one count of bankruptcy fraud.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul L. Gray said in September that Mulgrew’s guilty plea was made in exchange for dropping all charges against Mulgrew’s wife, Elizabeth Mulgrew.
The Mulgrews were charged with seven counts of tax fraud, including allegedly filing false tax returns in which they did not list over $67,000 in additional taxable income and which they listed allegedly false business deductions.
Jones said while Robert Mulgrew did, in fact, do some good in using a portion of the improperly obtained funds to beautify his community, it was not enough to outweigh his illegal conduct.
“As someone who lives in the city,” Jones said to Mulgrew, “it is appreciated that you would give that kind of effort to maintain the beauty and quality of the city, but the ends cannot justify the means.”
Mulgrew’s lawyer, Angie Halim, did not object to the sentence, but asked the judge that Mulgrew be allowed to surrender to authorities after the birth of his grandchild, as his eldest daughter is scheduled to have a cesarean section before the end of the month.
Jones turned to Gray to see if the government had any objections.
“One side of me is thoroughly in understanding of the request,” Gray said. “The prosecutor side of me is less understanding given the 10 months that have passed already from the time of the guilty plea and now.”
However, Gray added that the government would not object to the court’s decision. Jones subsequently set Mulgrew’s surrender date for Sept. 2.
Mulgrew still faces sentencing for perjury charges stemming from making false statements to the grand jury in the Philadelphia Traffic Court case.