Northeast Times

NE judges among 12 people charged in ticket-fix case

The Phil­adelphia Bar As­so­ci­ation, a state Su­preme Court justice and the ma­jor­ity lead­er of the Pennsylvania Sen­ate are all call­ing for con­tin­ued re­forms at Phil­adelphia Traffic Court after a dozen people as­so­ci­ated with the troubled court were crim­in­ally charged last week.

Mean­while, the Pennsylvania Su­preme Court on Fri­day af­ter­noon in­def­in­itely sus­pen­ded three judges in­dicted on traffic tick­et-fix­ing charges.

Traffic Court Judges Mi­chael Sul­li­van and Mike Lowry, along with Mark A. Bruno, a Chester County ma­gis­teri­al dis­trict court judge who oc­ca­sion­ally hears Traffic Court cases, were re­lieved of all ju­di­cial and ad­min­is­trat­ive du­ties without pay pending fur­ther ac­tion by the Su­preme Court.

Ac­cord­ing to the U.S. At­tor­ney’s Of­fice, the de­fend­ants “par­ti­cip­ated in a wide­spread cul­ture of giv­ing breaks on traffic cita­tions to friends, fam­ily, the polit­ic­ally con­nec­ted and busi­ness as­so­ci­ates.”

The nine in­di­vidu­als charged in a 78-count grand jury in­dict­ment are Lowry, a May­fair res­id­ent; Sul­li­van; Bruno; former Judges Robert Mul­grew, Wil­lie Sing­let­ary and Thomas­ine Tynes; former dir­ect­or of re­cords Billy Hird; and busi­ness­men Henry P. “Ed­die” Al­fano and Robert Moy.

Charged by crim­in­al in­form­a­tion are former state Rep. and re­tired Ad­min­is­trat­ive Judge For­tu­nato N. “Fred” Perri Sr., of North­east Phil­adelphia; Delaware County Seni­or Dis­trict Judge Ken­neth Miller; and Bucks County Seni­or Ma­gis­teri­al Dis­trict Judge H. War­ren Ho­ge­land. 

The sub­urb­an judges served vary­ing ten­ures on Traffic Court by ap­point­ment to fill va­can­cies on the bench.

The charges lis­ted in the in­dict­ment in­clude con­spir­acy, wire fraud, mail fraud, per­jury, false state­ments to the FBI and aid­ing and abet­ting.

Perri is charged in­de­pend­ently with con­spir­acy, mail fraud, wire fraud and aid­ing and abet­ting. He is also men­tioned ex­tens­ively in the in­dict­ment as a cent­ral fig­ure in the con­spir­acy.

“Phil­adelphia ward lead­ers, loc­al politi­cians and as­so­ci­ates of the Demo­crat­ic City Com­mit­tee reg­u­larly con­tac­ted de­fend­ants seek­ing pref­er­en­tial treat­ment on spe­cif­ic tick­ets,” the U.S. At­tor­ney’s Of­fice said in a prin­ted state­ment. “Ad­di­tion­ally, 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.”

The in­dict­ment cites tick­ets and cita­tions as hav­ing been “fixed” by the court between Ju­ly 2008 and Septem­ber 2011 in any of sev­er­al ways, in­clud­ing dis­missal, a “not guilty” ver­dict or a “guilty” ver­dict to less­er charges, res­ult­ing in less­er pun­ish­ment to the ac­cused traffic vi­ol­at­ors. Sim­il­ar tick­et fix­ing likely oc­curred long be­fore the peri­od ob­served by the grand jury, ac­cord­ing to the in­dict­ment.

The charges come two months after the re­lease of a scath­ing re­port on court op­er­a­tions. A con­sult­ant, hired by the Su­preme Court, de­term­ined that judges found 85 per­cent of court em­ploy­ees and their fam­ily mem­bers not guilty from 2009 to 2011. Just 26 per­cent of the over­all pub­lic was ac­quit­ted dur­ing that time.

Phil­adelphia voters elect sev­en Traffic Court judges. Four spots were va­cant be­fore the charges were an­nounced. Now that Lowry and Sul­li­van have been sus­pen­ded, the only sit­ting judge is Christine So­lomon, a Castor Gar­dens res­id­ent and a  former Demo­crat­ic lead­er of the 53rd Ward who joined the court last March.

The charges fol­lowed an FBI raid of judges’ homes, cham­bers and Traffic Court of­fices in Septem­ber 2011. 

Traffic Court, loc­ated at 8th and Spring Garden streets, re­mains open, with newly as­signed seni­or ma­gis­teri­al dis­trict judges from vari­ous counties ap­poin­ted to hear cases. 

“All cit­izens ap­pear­ing in Traffic Court should know that their cases will be fairly heard,” said Su­preme Court Justice J. Mi­chael Eakin, the Phil­adelphia courts’ li­ais­on. 

Perri, 76, served in the state House of Rep­res­ent­at­ives for two terms from 1973-76. A Re­pub­lic­an at the time, he was de­feated by Demo­crat Bob Bor­ski. He was GOP lead­er of the Frank­ford-based 23rd Ward, but provided a key en­dorse­ment for Demo­crat Tina Tartagli­one in 1994 when she nar­rowly de­feated Re­pub­lic­an Sen. Bruce Marks.

Perri of­fi­cially be­came a Demo­crat and, in 1997, Gov. Tom Ridge ap­poin­ted him to Traffic Court to fill a va­cancy cre­ated by the death of Judge Brid­get Mur­ray. He served as the court’s ad­min­is­trat­ive judge from 2000 to ’02, re­tired in 2007 and be­came a “seni­or judge,” which en­abled him to ac­cept tem­por­ary as­sign­ments to preside over court cases when asked by the ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Ac­cord­ing to the char­ging doc­u­ments, Perri al­legedly re­ceived free auto re­pairs and tow­ing ser­vices, along with gifts of un­spe­cified video re­cord­ings and sea­food in ex­change for the pref­er­en­tial treat­ment he ar­ranged for Al­fano, a South­w­est Philly busi­ness­man and former po­lice of­ficer.

Court-au­thor­ized in­ter­cep­ted tele­phone con­ver­sa­tions re­veal that Perri pri­or­it­ized as­sist­ing Al­fano.

“When you call, I move, broth­er, be­lieve me,” Perri told Al­fano.

On an­oth­er oc­ca­sion, he told Al­fano, “You are in good hands with All­state.”

Mean­while, the char­ging doc­u­ments claim, Perri hired Hird, 68, to work for Traffic Court in 1997 as the judge’s per­son­al as­sist­ant. In 2001, Hird was named the court’s dir­ect­or of re­cords, an ad­min­is­trat­ive po­s­i­tion, upon Perri’s re­com­mend­a­tion. Hird, who formerly op­er­ated a floor­ing busi­ness, earned as much as $80,000 a year in salary from the court and was in line for a pen­sion.

The gov­ern­ment al­leges that Hird used his po­s­i­tion to fa­cil­it­ate Perri’s re­quests for “con­sid­er­a­tion.”

“Don’t for­get, whenev­er I call you, it’s really im­port­ant,” Perri told him in a phone call, ac­cord­ing to the in­dict­ment.

Bri­an Mc­Monagle, Perri’s at­tor­ney, did not re­turn a call for com­ment.

Lowry, 58, elec­ted in 2007, al­legedly par­ti­cip­ated in the tick­et-fix­ing by grant­ing pref­er­en­tial treat­ment in cases re­com­men­ded to him and by re­com­mend­ing cases to oth­er judges for pref­er­en­tial treat­ment. The in­dict­ment did not identi­fy any spe­cif­ic be­ne­fits that Lowry re­ceived, but stated that he and oth­er judges gran­ted pref­er­en­tial treat­ment “be­cause of polit­ic­al sup­port (past, present and fu­ture)” that they had re­ceived or might re­ceive; as well as busi­ness, so­cial or oth­er re­la­tion­ships with the ac­cused traffic vi­ol­at­ors.

Fol­low­ing the FBI raid, the Su­preme Court took the un­pre­ced­en­ted step of ap­point­ing Judge Gary Glazer, a Phil­adelphia Com­mon Pleas Court jur­ist, to serve as ad­min­is­trat­ive judge of the Traffic Court and im­ple­ment eth­ic­al train­ing, hir­ing based on mer­it and oth­er re­forms.

Pennsylvania Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Domin­ic Pi­leggi, a Delaware County Re­pub­lic­an, last week re­it­er­ated his call to ab­ol­ish Traffic Court. Phil­adelphia is the only county in Pennsylvania with a traffic court.

Pi­leggi de­scribed the court as an in­sti­tu­tion with a “mul­ti­gen­er­a­tion­al tra­di­tion of dys­func­tion.”

“Traffic Court is not worth sav­ing,” he said.

The afore­men­tioned con­sult­ant’s re­port lis­ted three re­form op­tions: re­quir­ing Traffic Court judges to be law­yers; re­pla­cing judges with non-elec­ted ad­min­is­trat­ive hear­ing of­ficers; and elim­in­at­ing the court and trans­fer­ring its jur­is­dic­tion to Phil­adelphia Mu­ni­cip­al Court.

Kath­leen D. Wilkin­son, chan­cel­lor of the 13,000-mem­ber Phil­adelphia Bar As­so­ci­ation, said it was a “sad day for the justice sys­tem in Pennsylvania.”

“These in­dict­ments, while al­leg­a­tions are pending, raise ser­i­ous con­cerns about equal ac­cess to justice for thou­sands of Phil­adelphi­ans,” she said. “It is im­per­at­ive that the Traffic Court’s sit­ting judges who have been in­dicted resign im­me­di­ately to main­tain the in­teg­rity of our justice sys­tem. Any im­plic­a­tion of fa­vor­it­ism through a se­lect­ive met­ing out of un­equal justice mer­its swift con­dem­na­tion.”

Au­thor­it­ies re­leased each of the de­fend­ants on $20,000 bail, but did not re­quire them to post any cash or as­sets. ••

Re­port­er Tom War­ing can be reached at 215-354-3034 or twar­ing@bsmphilly.com

You can reach at twaring@bsmphilly.com.

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