Lawyers for the defendants in the Philadelphia Traffic Court trial Monday zeroed in on the FBI’s investigation into the alleged ticket-fixing scheme for being too narrowly focused.
The trial resumed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania after a weeklong recess. The trial, which picked up again with additional witness testimony and wiretap recordings, had been put on hold while presiding Judge Lawrence F. Stengel attended a conference in Washington, D.C.
Counsel for multiple defendants said during the cross-examination of Special Agent Jason Blake that the FBI’s investigation was skewed because it focused only on certain ticket adjudications before certain judges on specific dates, without taking into consideration the outcomes of the tickets that weren’t allegedly targeted for “consideration.”
The defense’s questioning of the investigative methodology used to look at specific tickets came after the government’s presentation of a ticket issued to New Jersey motorist Diandra Salvatore on Interstate 95 in Philadelphia.
Salvatore’s father, Dominick Salvatore, had contacted former defendant and family friend Henry P. Alfano purportedly about his daughter’s ticket. Alfano pleaded guilty to charges related to ticket-fixing before the trial commenced.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Denise Wolf played for the court a series of recorded phone conversations allegedly pertaining to Diandra Salvatore’s ticket. Salvatore had been given a speeding ticket by state police for driving 30 miles per hour over the limit.
In one of the recorded conversations, former Traffic Court Judge Fortunato Perri Sr., who also pleaded guilty to charges before trial, called Alfano allegedly to update him on the status of the ticket.
“It was amended to five over, it was 30 miles over,” Perri told Alfano on the recording.
Alfano asked, “Is there a cost or anything?”
“Yeah, but she got a good break, I hope everybody realizes that,” Perri responded. “Some people don’t understand that. You can’t always get a home run.”
“That’s alright, judge, I’m happy,” Alfano said.
Additionally, the prosecution presented a phone call between Perri and William Hird, former traffic court director of records and an additional defendant who pleaded guilty before trial, detailing an account of an individual showing up at traffic court, acting “like a big shot,” according to Perri, in relation to an alleged consideration request.
“You do things quietly,” Perri said to Hird about the individual, “you don’t have to go down there and let people see you, you dumb fuck … you do things quietly and diplomatically like we do.”
Defendant Michael Lowry’s attorney, William DeStefano of Stevens & Lee, asked Blake why the FBI didn’t observe the other hearings that Lowry was adjudicating on the day of Salvatore’s to see if they were similarly handled.
“We wanted the investigation to remain covert,” Blake said.
“Couldn’t it be covert if you went in with a tape recorder?” DeStefano asked.
“There’s a risk with sending someone in,” Blake responded.
“Regardless,” DeStefano said, “neither you nor anybody else went into the court to view what was going on.”
Blake said DeStefano was correct.
Additionally, DeStefano asked Blake if he or his investigative team had ever consulted the records of the hearing results for that day. Blake said no and added that the FBI was focused specifically on the Salvatore ticket.
Thomasine Tynes’ lawyer, Louis R. Busico, also asked Blake why the FBI didn’t send an agent to traffic court to surveil the hearings.
“Are you telling me that the FBI couldn’t find a way to put an FBI agent in the courtroom to make them look like a regular human being?” Busico asked.
“We could have, but we didn’t need to,” Blake answered.
In response to another question, Blake also testified that the ticket-issuing state trooper was not present at Salvatore’s hearing.
“As you sit here today, you can’t be certain, you can’t tell the jury that the evidence was there to convict Ms. Salvatore,” Busico said.
“We can say that she had a consideration request,” Blake responded.
At that time, as per Busico’s request, Stengel ordered Blake to answer the question directly.
Blake testified that he could not tell the jury there was evidence to convict Salvatore.
William Brennan, counsel for defendant Willie Singletary, asked Blake if it was fair to say that the FBI only looked into the Salvatore ticket because it had advance notice.
“We didn’t have evidence that any of those other citations were in the consideration process,” Blake said.
“For all you know,” Brennan said, “Mike Lowry could be a fixing-fool, he could be out there throwing every ticket out. He could have been on a one-man mission.”
“He could,” Blake said.
Brennan said without looking at all 80 cases Lowry had that day, there was no way to tell if Lowry was giving special treatment to Salvatore.
“The other 79,” Brennan said, “you didn’t juxtapose to see how the others did that day. You don’t know whether [Salvatore] did better, worse or the same.”
On redirect examination, Wolf asked Blake about the defense’s interpretation of judicial discretion in plea bargaining.
“Mr. Busico was talking a lot about how Ms. Salvatore could have been acquitted. In theory all … tickets could have been acquitted, right?” Wolf asked. Blake said yes.
Wolf asked Blake how many “behind the scenes” phone calls were made in relation to Salvatore’s ticket, to which Blake said 10.
She also asked Blake if writing names down on an index card for consideration and having them delivered to judges or visiting a judge in chambers to discuss a ticket fell within judicial discretion. Blake said no.
“If a bank robber passes six banks and robs the seventh, just because he passes by six he’s still a bank robber, right?” Wolf asked.
“Yes,” Blake answered.
A second witness, Robert DeEmilio, former deputy court administrator for traffic court, testified under grant of immunity that the court would typically handle 3,000 cases a day at its peak capacity and generate roughly $28 million in revenue for the city and state per year.
While under direct examination from Assistant U.S. Attorney Anthony Wzorek, DeEmilio testified that he asked for consideration multiple times, and said he understood the process to mean receiving a favorable outcome adjudication for a citation because of knowing a judge.
“Did you think you were committing some sort of crime by asking for consideration,” asked defendant Michael J. Sullivan’s attorney, Henry Hockeimer of Ballard Spahr.
“Absolutely not,” DeEmilio responded.
P.J. D’Annunzio can be contacted at 215-557-2315 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @PJDannunzioTLI. •