Sweeping federal indictment alleges widespread instances of 'ticket-fixing' at Phila. Traffic Court

By Jon Campisi | Feb 1, 2013

Federal prosecutors in eastern Pennsylvania on Jan. 31 unsealed a sweeping indictment

Federal prosecutors in eastern Pennsylvania on Jan. 31 unsealed a sweeping indictment

and three separate criminal informations against a handful of current and former judges on Philadelphia’s Traffic Court stemming from an FBI investigation into allegations of ticket-fixing.

Those named in the indictment include two sitting Traffic Court judges, one senior judge, three former jurists and others.

The 77-count indictment charges that the defendants routinely engaged in so-called “ticket fixing” for the politically connected, family members, friends and others.

Philadelphia ward leaders, local politicians and associates of the Democratic City Committee regularly contacted the judges seeking preferential treatment on specific traffic tickets, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, which announced the charges.

The defendants were also contacted, on a fairly regular basis, by relatives, friends and acquaintances who sought a “break” on tickets, the prosecutors allege.

“These defendants accepted these requests and either gave the preferential treatment directly or communicated the request to another judge to whom the case was assigned,” reads a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

There were three ways that tickets were typically fixed: by dismissing the fines outright, by finding the ticket holder “not guilty,” or by finding the ticket holder guilty of a lesser offense, the indictment alleges.

As a result, the ticket holders paid lesser or no fines and costs, and succeeded in evading the assessment of points on their driver’s licenses.

“This widespread ‘ticket-fixing’ defrauded both the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the City of Philadelphia of funds, and allowed potentially unsafe drivers to remain on the roads,” the U.S. Attorney’s news release states.

Prosecutors contend that the judges used their staffers to communicate requests to fix tickets to other judges, and that the widespread conspiracy also involved a cover-up consisting of shredding paperwork, speaking in code and trusting only specific people to carry out the fraud scheme.

“Our judicial system requires that the finder of fact determine guilt or innocence impartially,” U.S. Attorney Zane David Memeger said in a statement. “Ignoring this basic rule of justice, the judges in this case allegedly routinely ‘fixed’ traffic tickets by giving preferential treatment to people with whom they were politically and socially connected.”

Memeger said in addition to depriving the city and state of revenue, the corrupt conduct on the part of the judges “undermined the confidence that law abiding citizens have in the Philadelphia Court System.

“Those who seek to game the system by refusing to follow the rules need to be held accountable by the rule of law they swore to uphold,” Memeger said.

The defendants in the case are as follows: Michael J. Sullivan and Michael Lowry, both sitting Philadelphia Traffic Court judges; former Traffic Court Judges Robert Mulgrew, Willie Singletary and Thomasine Tynes; William Hird, the Traffic Court’s former director of records; Senior Traffic Court Judge Fortunato N. Perri, Sr.; Chester County Magisterial District Judge Mark A. Bruno; Bucks County Senior Magisterial District Judge H. Warren Hogeland; Delaware County Senior District Judge Kenneth Miller; and Philadelphia businessmen Henry P. Alfano and Robert Moy.

Three of the defendants – Mulgrew, Lowry and Tynes – are each charged with committing perjury before the federal grand jury, while former Judge Singletary and Hird are charged with lying to the FBI when they were approached and asked questions about ticket-fixing.

The indictment alleges that defendant Alfano often gave Senior Judge Perri free auto repairs, free towing, free videos and free seafood at his businesses in exchange for fixing tickets.

Alfano, the authorities allege, would give Perri traffic citation numbers, the names of the offenders, or the actual citations to arrange for fixing the ticket.

Perri then allegedly conveyed that information to Hird who would in turn convey the request to the assigned judge.

Hird, the indictment charges, was extremely loyal to Perri given that the judge had helped Hird move up the ladder to a higher-level administrative position at Traffic Court.

Judge Sullivan, in addition to requests from ward leaders, would also assist friends and customers of his bar, the Fireside Tavern, to fix tickets.

The indictment says that Sullivan directed associates who wanted their tickets taken care of to leave them at his tavern where they were put into a box behind the bar.

Former judges Singletary and Tynes allegedly fixed tickets on behalf of defendant Moy, a Philadelphia business owner who owned and operated Number One Translations.

Moy allegedly guaranteed customers favorable results on their traffic tickets based on his relationship with the two jurists.

As previously reported by the Pennsylvania Record, Singletary had been reprimanded by the state’s Court of Judicial Discipline for supposedly showing cellphone photos of his genitals to a female court staffer.

Mulgrew, another former judge who is a defendant in the current case, had been indicted along with his wife and a legislative aide to a state representative earlier this year in a separate federal case in which the three were accused of using thousands of dollars in community development funds for personal enrichment.

“The citizens of Philadelphia expect and deserve public officials who perform their duties free of deceit, favoritism, bias, self-enrichment, concealment and conflict of interest,” the FBI’s Acting Special Agent-in-Charge, John Brosnan, said in a statement. “Everyone is entitled to the same treatment in Traffic Court, regardless of their personal relationships, regardless of political considerations, and regardless of the personal preferences of court officials.”

The U.S. Attorney’s Office stated that the money that would have been received from adjudicated traffic citations would have been used toward the City of Philadelphia’s general fund, the Philadelphia Parking Authority, and the First Judicial District’s procurement department, as well as toward emergency medical training services for the commonwealth; MCARE, which helps compensate people injured by medical malpractice; and the Access to Justice Fund, which provides legal aid money for low income residents and domestic violence victims.

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