A former Philadelphia Traffic Court judge admitted in federal court Wednesday to fixing traffic tickets for contacts who provided him seafood, videos, the installation of a patio and car repairs.
Fortunato Perri Sr.’s guilty plea to four felony counts, including a count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, two counts of wire fraud and one count of mail fraud, does not involve a commitment to cooperate, Assistant U.S. Attorney Denise S. Wolf said.
“If anyone wants to cooperate, we don’t say no,” Wolf said.
Perri’s plea agreement allows the government to make whatever recommendation for his sentence that prosecutors opt to make.
While Perri technically could face 65 years in federal prison, the 76-year-old is in a lower guidelines range in which he could be sentenced to house arrest, probation or imprisonment, Wolf said.
By “demonstrated acceptance of responsibility for his offense,” Perri is entitled to the usual downward adjustment, according to Wolf, as well as the guilty plea memorandum.
As Perri walked out of the courthouse holding onto counsel Brian J. McMonagle, of McMonagle, Perri, McHugh & Mischak, McMonagle declined comment.
Perri’s son, Fortunato Perri Jr., who also is a named partner with McMonagle Perri, accompanied his father to court and exited with his law partner and his father.
U.S. District Senior Judge Robert F. Kelly of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania accepted Perri’s plea. There is a factual basis for the plea, Kelly said.
Perri, a senior judge in 2007, was the administrative judge on the court from 2000 until 2002, and first joined the court in 1997.
Perri’s sentencing is tentatively scheduled for June 21.
“From in or about August 2009 to in or about July 2011 the defendant and 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,” Perri’s guilty plea memorandum said. “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, and avoid the assignment of points to a driver’s record.”
Perri is the third Traffic Court judge to plead guilty to ticket-fixing. He is the last judge who was charged by an information and not indicted by federal authorities to enter a guilty plea.
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 last month.
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 and Perri, has explicitly agreed to cooperate with federal investigators.
Prosecutors said in court papers that the main conduit for Perri for ticket-fixing was William Hird, the court’s former director of records.
“Hird was extremely loyal to Perri because Perri had originally hired Hird as a personal assistant, and because Perri had been instrumental in securing promotions, along with salary increases, for Hird within Traffic Court,” according to the court papers.
When Perri received requests for special consideration on traffic tickets, Perri would give Hird the requests and Hird, in turn, would convey those requests to the judges presiding over those particular citations, according to Perri’s guilty plea memorandum.
Hird would often provide a computer printout of the traffic cases that were fixed by judges and give them to Perri, according to prosecutors. Perri referred to those printouts as “receipts,” prosecutors said.
Hird is facing federal charges.
Not only did Perri fix tickets for mechanic and towing company owner Henry P. Alfano, Perri also gave Alfano a no-bid towing and storage contract for vehicles towed and stored by law enforcement authorities, court papers said. Alfano also has been charged in the ticket-fixing scandal.
While Perri fixed tickets for Alfano’s friends and associates, Perri or his relatives got free car repairs, such as a new transmission and a rebuilt engine, as well as free towing of vehicles from Perri’s residence and the residence of his family members to the mechanic’s and back again, free videos and free food, including seafood, according to court papers.
While Perri fixed tickets for landscaping business owner, “M.D.,” and M.D.’s brother, “A.D.,” who owns a material and delivery company and a construction company, A.D. installed a patio for Perri at no charge, and M.D. provided landscaping to Perri for free or at reduced charges, court papers said. Some of the tickets fixed by Perri for M.D. and A.D. were for their employees.
According to prosecutors, Alfano also was involved with Perri fixing tickets for L.R. and L.R.’s business, Oasis Gentleman’s Club. One of the tickets fixed at L.R.’s behest was for L.R. driving a bus without a commercial driver’s license and for three other citations.
The ticket did not get fixed at first. “On May 18, 2010, Perri and Alfano discussed the continuance on the Oasis tickets because the district justices were sitting last week and all the judges were away and therefore maybe Perri ‘couldn’t get it through, you know what I mean?’ Alfano responded, ‘I gotcha. I got the picture.’ Perri instructed Alfano to mail Perri any notices,” according to Perri’s guilty plea memorandum.
Also charged by federal prosecutors are suspended Judge 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; 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; former Judge Willie F. 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; and suspended Judge Mark A. Bruno, a magisterial district judge from Chester County who also was appointed to sit in the Traffic Court.
Also charged was another local businessman, Robert Moy.
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.
Tynes, Sullivan, Mulgrew and Lowry are named in Perri’s guilty plea memorandum as fixing tickets by adjudicating the cases as not guilty or for lower offenses.
“This is another step in the long process toward restoring public confidence in Philadelphia’s courts,” said Lynn Marks of Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts in an email. “The timing of Judge Perri’s guilty plea serves as a powerful reminder to the dozens of Traffic Court judge hopefuls that judges, whether they sit on Philadelphia Traffic Court or the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, are not above the law.”