Two of the defendants caught up in the Philadelphia Traffic Court scandal involving alleged “ticket-fixing” scheme have pleaded guilty, the first two to do so since the federal government unsealed indictments in the scandal late last month.
Court records show, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office confirms, that H. Warren Hogeland, 75, a former Philadelphia Traffic Court judge, pleaded guilty to conspiracy and mail fraud charges in connection with his involvement in the alleged scheme, in which federal authorities have said Traffic Court judges routinely dismissed tickets for family members, friends and the politically connected sometimes in exchange for favors.
The docket sheet in Hogeland’s case at the federal courthouse in Philadelphia shows that the former minor court jurist pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud and two counts of mail fraud and aiding and abetting, which are felonies.
The federal judge overseeing the case, Robert F. Kelly, set sentencing for May 24.
The court docket shows that Hogeland is out on $20,000 bail.
Also to plead guilty was 76-year-old Kenneth Miller of Brookhaven, Pa., a Delaware County senior magisterial district judge who also heard Philadelphia Traffic Court cases from time to time.
According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Philadelphia, Hogeland once presided over a ticket issued to Miller’s son and found the son not guilty without the son having to make an in-person court appearance.
Miller pleaded guilty to mail fraud, unlike Hogeland who pleaded guilty to both mail fraud and conspiracy.
The former Traffic Court judges were among nine current and former judges on the minor bench who were charged with “ticket-fixing” following a three-year FBI investigation into the alleged corrupt acts.
Hogeland and Miller were charged in what are known as criminal informations, as opposed to indictments, which generally signals that the defendant intends to plead guilty to the crimes.
The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that Hogeland, who resides in Bucks County, was formerly a police officer and magisterial district judge who retired from his district judge position in 2006 and took a seat on the Philadelphia Traffic Court.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office stated that both Hogeland and Miller face a possible advisory sentencing guideline range of zero to six months in federal prison, before variances or departures.
The Philadelphia Traffic Court scandal has sparked calls for the abolishment of the court, which is the only one of its kind in Pennsylvania.
State Sen. Dominic Pileggi, a Republican from Delaware County who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee, has already introduced legislation to eliminate Philadelphia Traffic Court altogether.
The two bills – one would amend the state constitution to allow for the elimination of the court while the other would transfer Traffic Court duties to Philadelphia’s Municipal Court – have already cleared the judiciary committee with a unanimous vote.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania has stated that Traffic Court judges “fixed” tickets either by dismissing them outright, finding the violator not guilty or finding the person guilty of a lesser offense.
“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,” reads a U.S. Attorney’s Office news release.
The advocacy group Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, in comments to the Pennsylvania Record, said the guilty pleas are the first step on a long road to recovery for Philadelphia’s court system.
“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,” stated the group’s executive director, Lynn Marks. “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, not the political connections of the parties. It’s time to end Philadelphia’s culture of favoritism, entitlement and ticket-fixing in Traffic Court.”