The third Philadelphia Traffic Court judge snared in the ticket-fixing scandal that has tainted the minor judiciary has pleaded guilty to his crimes.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania announced on Wednesday that Senior Judge Fortunato Perri, 76, admitted to being part of a fraud scheme involving nine other Traffic Court jurists.
Perri admitted to receiving free automotive repairs, free towing, free videos and free seafood from a co-defendant in exchange for his “fixing” traffic citations.
The judge would receive traffic ticket numbers, the names of the offenders, or get his hands on the actual citation to “fix” the ticket, and would then convey the information to William Hird, the director of records at the court, who in turn would pass on the request to the assigned judge, according to prosecutors.
Court authorized intercepted phone conversations revealed that Perri prioritized assisting the co-defendant from whom he received free services, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Perri is the third defendant to plead guilty in the federal corruption case, which has all but wiped out the entire Traffic Court bench.
The scandal has also led to calls for abolishing Philadelphia Traffic Court, which is the only one of its kind in Pennsylvania’s 67 counties.
Court reform advocates, such as the group Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, say the ticket-fixing scandal, as well as the recent corruption conviction of state Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin, prove a need for major changes within Pennsylvania’s judiciary.
“This is another step in the long process toward restoring public confidence in Philadelphia’s courts,” Lynn Marks, executive director of PMC, said in a statement following the announcement of Perri’s guilty plea. “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 the Philadelphia Traffic Court or the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, are not above the law.”
H. Warren Hogeland, 75, a Bucks County Senior Magisterial District Judge, and Kenneth Miller, 76, a Delaware County Senior Magisterial District Judge, both entered guilty pleas on Feb. 12.
The two were among a handful of out-of-county judges who occasionally heard cases at Philadelphia Traffic Court.
Hogeland and Miller are scheduled to be sentenced in late May.
In Perri’s case, the judge had apparently helped Hird “move up the ladder” to a higher-level administrative position at Traffic Court, the U.S. Attorney’s Office stated, and therefore Hird was extremely loyal to Perri.
Conversations recorded by the feds showed that Hird would regularly agree to Perri’s requests for ticket-fixing, according to prosecutors.
The tickets were “fixed” either by being dismissed, finding the person who had been issued the citation not guilty, or by finding the violator guilty of a lesser crime.
As a result, the ticketholder paid lesser or no fines and costs, and evaded 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,” reads a statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Last month, the Pennsylvania Senate approved legislation proposed by Sen. Dominic Pileggi, the Senate’s majority leader, which would pave the way toward abolishing Philadelphia Traffic Court.
The commonwealth’s constitution would first have to be amended before the court’s elimination.
If abolishment were successful, traffic violations in Philadelphia would be handled by Philadelphia’s Municipal Court.