Northeast judge, ex-lawmaker among dozen charged in Traffic Court scandal
Michael Lowry, Fortunato Perri Sr. and others are accused of fixing tickets.
A former Philadelphia Traffic Court administrative judge and state lawmaker from Frankford, along with a sitting judge from Mayfair, were among nine current or former judges and three others implicated by federal prosecutors on Thursday as conspirators in a pervasive traffic ticket-fixing scheme.
According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, former state Rep. and retired Administrative Judge Fortunato Perri Sr., his onetime personal assistant William Hird and sitting Traffic Court Judge Michael Lowry all “participated in a widespread culture of giving breaks on traffic citations to friends, family, the politically connected and business associates.”
Lowry and Hird were named in a 78-count grand jury indictment, while Perri was charged separately by criminal information. Perri is mentioned extensively in the indictment, however, 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 50 tickets 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.
“For years, even beyond the dates of the conspiracy charged, there existed a culture of ‘ticket-fixing’ at Traffic Court. Both judges and high-level administrators at Traffic Court perpetuated and furthered this culture of ‘ticket-fixing’ through receiving, arranging and honoring requests for ‘ticket-fixing.’ The ‘ticket-fixing’ was pervasive and frequent,” the indictment stated.
Perri, 76, who served in the state House for two terms in the mid-1970s as a Republican then later switched political parties, was appointed as a Traffic Court judge in 1997 to fill a vacancy on the bench. 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 South Philly businessman and former police officer Henry P. Alfano.
Meanwhile, the charging documents claim, Perri hired Hird, 68, to work for Traffic Court in 1997as 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.
Lowry, 58, 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.
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.
The other judicial defendants include sitting Traffic Court Judge Michael Sullivan; former Traffic Court judges Robert Mulgrew, Willie Singletary and Thomasine Tynes; Chester County Magisterial District Judge Mark A. Bruno; Bucks County Senior Magisterial District Judge H. Warren Hogeland; and Delaware County Senior District Judge Kenneth Miller. The suburban judges served varying tenures on Traffic Court by appointment to fill vacancies on the bench.
Center City-based businessman Robert Moy was also charged in the conspiracy.
Authorities released each of the defendants on $20,000 bail, but did not require them to post any cash or assets.