The first two guilty pleas have been entered in the Philadelphia Traffic Court ticket-fixing scandal.
H. Warren Hogeland and Kenneth Miller, both retired magisterial district judges who had been specially appointed to serve on the Traffic Court bench, each entered guilty pleas in federal court Tuesday.
Both Hogeland and Miller had been charged in criminal informations. They are two of nine present and former Traffic Court judges to have been charged by federal prosecutors with being involved in a conspiracy to fix traffic tickets.
Hogeland pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud and one count of mail fraud.
Miller pled guilty to one count of mail fraud.
Court documents show that Miller, but not Hogeland, explicitly has agreed to cooperate with federal investigators. The plea memorandum in Miller’s case states that “the defendant agrees to be debriefed and to cooperate in the government’s ongoing investigation, and to testify at future proceedings.”
In another development related to Traffic Court, the state Senate is slated to have its final votes today on two pieces of legislation that would change the future of how traffic tickets are adjudicated in Philadelphia.
One bill, which would not require a constitutional amendment, would establish a traffic division within the Philadelphia Municipal Court. Another bill would eliminate references to Traffic Court throughout the Pennsylvania Constitution in five different sections; that bill will require passage in two separate legislative sessions and then approval by voters to amend the constitution.
The Judiciary Committee passed the legislation February 5, and the Appropriations Committee passed the legislation Monday.
Hogeland, who was appointed as a senior judge to sit in Traffic Court after his retirement as an elected magisterial district judge in Bucks County in 2006, admitted that he received and then acted on requests to amend or dismiss cases “without them even being called in open court” at the request of the staffs of Judge Michael J. Sullivan, former Judge Willie F. Singletary and former Judge Thomasine Tynes, according to court papers.
Hogeland also admitted making a number of requests for consideration from other judges, according to court papers.
Hogeland also admitted adjudicating the citation of Miller’s son as not guilty despite the fact that the son did not appear in court, according to court papers.
Federal prosecutors allege in court papers that Miller’s son was issued a citation for passing traffic at approximately 60 miles-per-hour in a 45 mile-per-hour zone, that Miller’s son consulted him about the ticket, and that Miller mailed information about the ticket to the court’s alleged clearinghouse for ticket-fixing, William Hird, the court’s former director of records.
Federal prosecutors further allege in court papers that Miller contacted Hird about the citation during a call caught on a wiretap in which Hird stated in code that Miller’s son did not need to attend the trial by saying, “‘I don’t think anybody is going to that party.’”
Miller, who was a senior magisterial district judge in Delaware County from 1970 until January 2006 and then sat as a senior judge in Traffic Court for one year until leaving in early 2008, admitted being involved in fixing a ticket after he was a judge.
According to a court document, “J.B.” received a traffic citation for causing an accident for making an improper left turn, J.B. asked his mother, “M.B.,” a court clerk, for advice, and M.B. talked with Miller about her son’s ticket.
Federal prosecutors alleged that Miller mailed the ticket to Hird, identifying “it as a ticket belonging to the son of a clerk in his court system. Miller said he was hoping that there would be some sort of reduction on the ticket.”
Federal prosecutors further alleged Singletary found J.B. not guilty despite the fact J.B. never appeared in court.
Hogeland’s attorney, Craig Sopin, said Hogeland could have tested the government’s ability to prove its evidence at trial, but “his decision represents his willingness to take responsibility and also what he believes is the right thing for him and his family and the community he has served in Bucks County.”
Hogeland was the first police officer in Northampton Township, Bucks County, including being issued badge number one, Sopin said.
Upon retirement from the township’s police force, he was elected as a district judge, Sopin said. He continues to reside in Northampton Township, Sopin said.
When asked if Hogeland is cooperating with federal investigators, Sopin said that the plea is reflected in the “four corners” of the plea memorandum and that there are no promises from either side.
Miller’s attorney, Michael Malloy, said his client entered a “cooperation plea agreement,” that he was not involved in the conspiracy with which the other judges were charged, and he was not a sitting judge at the time of his crime.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Anthony J. Wzorek did not respond to a request for comment.
“The defendant and the others manipulated Traffic Court cases outside the judicial process in order to achieve favorable outcomes on traffic citations to benefit friends, family members, other associates, or local politicians,” according to the government’s plea memorandum in Hogeland’s case. “This manipulation, or ‘ticket-fixing,’ consisted of obtaining continuances of trial dates in order to ‘judge shop,’ dismissing tickets outright, finding the ticketholder not guilty, or adjudicating the ticket in a manner to reduce fines and costs, which would have gone to the commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the city of Philadelphia.”
Also charged by federal prosecutors are suspended Judge 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; suspended Judge 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; 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 Tynes, who took the bench in 1989 and stepped down last year; suspended Judge Mark A. Bruno, a magisterial district judge from Chester County who also was appointed to sit in the Traffic Court; 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.
Also charged was Hird and two local businessmen, Henry P. Alfano and Robert Moy. Those last two defendants allegedly sought successfully to have tickets fixed.
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.
“Today’s guilty pleas by former Philadelphia Traffic Court Judges Warren Hogeland and Kenneth N. Miller are the first step on a long road to recovery for Philadelphia’s court system,” said Lynn Marks of Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts in an email. “In the coming weeks, as various proposals for reform are debated in the legislature and by the public — and maybe more guilty pleas are entered — Philadelphians must continue to insist that we deserve better. Everyone deserves the right to come to court with confidence that their case will be heard by a qualified, fair and impartial judge and decided on the facts and the law.”