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August 28, 2014, 1:05 am

Two judges plead guilty to ticket fixing

Two of the nine judges indicted by federal authorities in a wide spread traffic ticket-fixing scheme pleaded guilty to charges of mail fraud and conspiracy this week.

Judge H. Warren Hogeland of Richboro, Pennsylvania and Judge Kenneth Miller of Brookhaven, Pennsylvania, pleaded guilty to participating with seven Philadelphia Traffic Court judges in a traffic ticket fixing scheme. Federal investigators contend that both defendants routinely gave breaks to the city’s politically connected, business associates, family members and friends.

Hogeland, 75, and Miller, 76, both pleaded guilty to mail fraud and Hogeland also pleaded guilty to conspiracy. Prosecutors say that both men have agreed to cooperate with federal authorities and could be called in to testify when the case goes to court. According to the U.S. Attorney’s office, Hogeland allegedly handled a traffic ticket issued to Miller’s son by declaring him not guilty without so much as a court appearance. Allegedly, Miller also declared another traffic violator not guilty without a court appearance. Federal prosecutors allege that as part of the wider scheme, traffic tickets were routinely “fixed” and violators were often found not guilty, or were found guilty of lesser offenses. In numerous cases, the violators never had to show their faces in court.

Both defendants are scheduled for sentencing on May 24 in federal court.

Indicted in the case are former Judges Thomasine Tynes, Willie Singletary and Robert Mulgrew, sitting Judges Michael J. Sullivan, Michael Lowry, Chester County Judge Mark A. Bruno, Senior Philadelphia Traffic Court Judge Fortunato Perri Sr., Former Director of Records Judge William Hird and local businessmen Henry Alfano and Robert Moy. Attorney William Brennan said he is looking forward to mounting a vigorous defense for his client, Judge Willie Singletary.

“We’re pleased that the federal government doesn’t allege that my client took one dime from anyone and we’re looking forward to mounting a vigorous defense,” said attorney William Brennan. The defendants were placed on $20,000 bail and released on their own recognizance. They were placed on travel restrictions, had to surrender any firearms and their passports.

According to the indictment, the defendants either dismissed traffic tickets outright or found violators not guilty after a “show hearing.” They allegedly adjudicated cases in a manner manipulated to reduce fines and points on a driver’s record, and obtained continuances of trial dates to “judge shop” - meaning finding a judge willing to accede to requests for preferential treatment. The indictments allege that the indicted judges and their staff members kept the system of preference quiet, and took steps to keep it that way.

“Our judicial system requires that the finder of fact determine guilt or innocence impartially,” U.S. Attorney Zane Memeger said. “Ignoring this basic rule of justice, the judges in this case allegedly routinely ‘fixed’ traffic tickets by giving preferential treatment to people with whom they were politically and socially connected. In addition to depriving the city of Philadelphia and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania of funds rightfully owed by traffic violators, their corrupt conduct also undermined the confidence that law abiding citizens have in the Philadelphia Court System. Those who seek to game the system by refusing to follow the rules need to be held accountable by the rule of law they swore to uphold.”

According to the 77-count indictment, the city’s local politicians, ward leaders and those connected to the Democratic City Committee often contacted traffic law violators who were seeking preferential treatment. The defendants themselves were also allegedly routinely contacted by family members, friends and associates looking for a break on their traffic tickets. The indictment further alleges that the defendants either handled the requests themselves or spoke with judges to whom a particular case was assigned, leaving potentially unsafe drivers on the roads and defrauding the city and state of funds related to fines.

“The citizens of Philadelphia expect and deserve public officials who perform their duties free of deceit, favoritism, bias, self-enrichment, concealment and conflict of interest,” said FBI Special Agent-in-Charge John Brosnan. “Everyone is entitled to the same treatment in Traffic Court, regardless of their personal relationships, regardless of political considerations, and regardless of the personal preferences of court officials.”