Local/State

9 judges charged with Philadelphia ticket fixing

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Nine judges who presided at Philadelphia traffic court were charged with fixing tickets for friends and political allies in a sweeping federal indictment that alleged pervasive, but covert, corruption in the courthouse.

Federal officials alleged "a widespread culture of giving breaks on traffic citations to friends, family, the politically-connected and business associates." Those charged are:

Michael J. Sullivan (sitting Judge, Traffic Court)
Michael Lowry (sitting Judge, Traffic Court)
Robert Mulgrew (former Judge, Traffic Court)
Willie Singletary (former Judge, Traffic Court)
Thomasine Tynes (former Judge, Traffic Court)
Mark A. Bruno (Chester County Magisterial District Judge)    
H. Warren Hogeland (Bucks County Senior Magisterial District Judge)
Kenneth Miller (Delaware County Senior District Judge)
Fortunato N. Perri, Sr. (Senior Judge, Traffic Court)
William Hird (former Director of Records, Traffic Court)
Henry P. Alfano (local businessman)
Robert Moy (local businessman)

The U.S Attorney's office, citing an indictment, said Philadelphia ward leaders, local politicians and associates of the Democratic City Committee regularly contacted defendants seeking preferential treatment on specific tickets. 

Additionally, according to the indictment, the defendants were regularly contacted by family, friends and associates seeking a "break" on tickets.  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, investigators said.

  The U.S. Attorney said tickets were "fixed" by either being dismissed, finding the ticket holder "not guilty," or finding the ticket holder guilty of a lesser offense.  In many cases, investigators said, the ticket holder did not even appear in Traffic Court, yet their ticket was "fixed." 

"As a result, these ticketholders paid lesser or no fines and costs, and evaded the assessment of "points" on their driver's record.  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," U.S. Attorney's office said in the statement.

Defense attorneys suggested the accused made no money from the favors and that the court has worked that way for a century.

"It's been my experience that any little old lady in the suburbs ... can walk in to her local magistrate judge, and expect to get a reduction in her charge," said Singletary's lawyer, William J. Brennan. "I don't think that's fraud. It's just kind of the way it works."

Defense lawyer Gregory Pagano, who represents Hird, said court workers should have been trained in ethics and warned that new policies were being adopted. The elected judges are not lawyers and don't even need a high school degree, he noted.

"It's a shame. None of these people were on the take here. Not a person took a single dime. Billy Hird was doing his job as he was taught to do it, and the way it was being done for almost 100 years, really," Pagano said. "They've got to take the fall for everyone who's come before them. ... It's very unfair."

The indictment follows and FBI raid of the court in August, 2011.

The State Supreme Court had already taken over traffic court operations after an independent report unearthed many of the same allegations made in the federal indictment.

Perjury, freebies alleged in indictment

Three judges - Mulgrew, along with Lowry and Tynes - are each charged with committing perjury before the federal grand jury. Singletary and Hird are charged with lying to the FBI when they were approached and asked questions about ticket fixing at Traffic Court.

Singletary was removed from the bench in early 2012 over videotaped remarks that ended up on YouTube. In the video, Singletary could be seen suggesting campaign donors would find a "hook-up" in his court.

On Thursday morning, Singletary simply said "My God is able." Lawyer William J. Brennan said on Thursday that Singletary never took a dime from anyone.

In December 2012, Singletary was found to have "engaged in judicial misconduct" by the the Court of Judicial Discipline over an incident in which he allegedly showed a female court clerk cell phone photos of his genitals.

Mulgrew, meanwhile, was previously charged with misusing more than $800,000 in Department of Community and Economic Development grants.

Federal prosecutors say Mulgrew and aide Lorraine Dispaldo each signed grant applications for a pair of community organizations that were used to funnel the ill-gotten money to friends, family and associates. Mulgrew's wife is also charged with filing false tax returns.

Alfano, according to the indictment, regularly gave Perri, Sr. free auto repairs, free towing, free videos, and free seafood in exchange for "fixing" tickets.

Perri, Sr. was allegedly recorded on wiretap telling one businessman "When you call, I move brother.  Believe me, I move everybody."

According to the indictment, Alfano would give Perri traffic citation numbers, the names of offenders, or the actual citations to arrange "fixing" the ticket. Perri conveyed the information to William Hird. Hird, in turn, allegedly conveyed the request to the assigned judge. Hird, it is alleged, was extremely loyal to Perri given that Perri helped Hird move up the ladder to a high-level administrator at Traffic Court.

Sullivan allegedly assisted friends and customers of his bar, the Fireside Tavern. According to the indictment, Sullivan directed associates who wanted their tickets "fixed" to leave them at his tavern where they were placed in a box behind the bar.

Singletary and Tynes allegedly "fixed" tickets on behalf of Moy, who owned "Number One Translations," a business located in Philadelphia.

Moy, it is alleged, would guarantee paying customers favorable results on their Traffic Court citations based on his relationship with both Singletary and Tynes. According to the indictment, Moy even allegedly advertised in a local newspaper that he "Tackles the traffic ticket, and guarantees no points or fewer points."

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.

(Copyright ©2014 WPVI-TV/DT. All Rights Reserved.)

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philadelphia, corruption, fraud, local/state
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