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Thursday, January 31, 2013

9 Judges Charged with Philadelphia Ticket Fixing

philli traffic court
caught speeding? Running 
a red light? Leaving the 
scene of an accident? For 
years, it was no problem, authorities say — so long as 
you were in Philadelphia and knew the right people.
The city’s traffic court was the place where moving 
violations went to die, according to a federal indictment 
that charged nine judges with fixing tickets for friends, 
relatives,business associates and political allies.
A “widespread culture of giving breaks on traffic 
citations” persisted in the city, federal prosecutors 
alleged, though everyday citizens were out of luck. Only 
the well-connected got breaks.
Defense attorneys suggested that the judges made no 
money from the favors and that the court has worked 
that way for a century.
The defendants include six current and former 
Philadelphia traffic court judges and three suburban 
judges who had stints at the court. Among them is 
former Traffic Court Judge Willie Singletary, who had 
been kicked out of office for showing cellphone photos 
of his genitals to a female clerk. A court clerk and two 
businessmen also were charged.
Philadelphia Common Pleas Judge Gary S. Glazer, a 
former federal prosecutor tapped by Pennsylvania Chief 
Justice Ronald Castille to clean up traffic court, hailed 
Thursday’s indictment as a “very positive step toward 
reforming the institution.”
“It has historically been a terribly troubled place,” he 
told The Associated Press.
The state’s Judicial Conduct Board moved quickly to 
suspend the judges without pay, pending the outcomes 
of their cases. Traffic court judges, who are not required 
to be lawyers, make about $91,000 per year.
Philadelphia ward leaders and Democratic City 
Committee associates, along with family and friends, 
regularly contacted the judges to seek help with traffic 
tickets. Judges would trade favors if the case wasn’t 
assigned to them and would either dismiss or reduce the 
ticket, helping people avoid steep fines and points on 
their licenses, authorities charged.
The judges and their staffs took steps to hide the system 
of “consideration” by shredding paperwork, speaking in 
code and keeping a tight circle, according to court 
“A well-understood conspiracy of silence fell over the 
system and its participants,” the indictment said.
The scheme kept unsafe drivers on the road and 
deprived the city and state of revenues, U.S. Attorney 
Zane Memeger said.
Defense lawyers said their clients never took a dime, and 
simply did things the way they’ve been done for decades 
— and the way they were trained to do.
“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.”
The 77-count indictment noted that Singletary had 
openly campaigned on a promise that he would do 
favors for supporters.
“There’s going to be a basket going around because I’m 
running for traffic court judge, right, and I need some 
money,” the indictment quoted Singletary as saying at a 
2007 motorcycle club meeting. “I got some stuff that I 
got to do, but if you all can give me twenty dollars 
you’re going to need me in traffic court, am I right about 
that? … Now you all want me to get there, you’re all 
going to need my hook-up, right?”
The indictment also charges Singletary with lying to the 
FBI and three judges with lying to the grand jury.
Other defendants include sitting judges Michael J. 
Sullivan, Michael Lowry and Fortunato N. Perri Sr.; 
suspended Traffic Court Judge Robert Mulgrew; former 
Traffic Court Judges Thomasine Tynes and Singletary; 
and former traffic court director William Hird, who retired 
last year after the investigation broke.
Perri, a senior judge and a longtime fixture at the court, 
accepted free car repairs, towing, seafood and videos in 
exchange for help with traffic tickets, the indictment 
“When you call, I move, brother, believe me. I move 
everybody,” he told Henry P. Alfano, a junkyard owner 
and strip club landlord who provided some of the 
freebies, the indictment said.
It was not clear who was representing either man, or 
some of the other defendants. Lowry’s lawyer, Michael 
Schwartz, declined to comment.
Defense lawyer Gregory Pagano, who represents Hird, 
said court workers should have been trained in ethics 
and warned that new policies were being adopted.
“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.”
Pennsylvania Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, a 
Republican from the Philadelphia suburbs who plans to 
introduce legislation abolishing traffic court, called it an 
institution “with a multi-generational tradition of 
dysfunction” and predicted Thursday’s indictment will 
accelerate consideration of the bill.
“Traffic Court is not worth saving,” he declared.
No other county in Pennsylvania has a dedicated traffic 
court. Traffic offenses outside Philadelphia are typically 
handled by district judges who preside over a wide 
range of criminal and civil matters.
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