Two former judges from South Philly were indicted for “ticket-fixing.”
Nine current and former Traffic Court judges, including two locals, allegedly gave “preferential treatment to certain ticketholders, most commonly by ‘fixing’ tickets for those with whom they were politically and socially connected,” according to the federal indictment, which was unsealed Jan. 31. Three other non-judges also were charged in the case.
Michael J. Sullivan, 49, who took the bench in 2006 and was an active judge at the time of the indictment, was charged with 18 counts of wire fraud, three counts of mail fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud while Robert Mulgrew, 55, who became a judge in ’08 but was removed from his post after being indicted federally in September for allegedly defrauding a neighborhood nonprofit, was charged with four counts of wire fraud, two counts of mail fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud, according to the indictment.
“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,” FBI Acting Special Agent-in-Charge John Brosnan said in a statement. “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.”
The local pair of judges allegedly dismissed tickets, found violators not guilty, adjudicated tickets in order to reduce fines or points to one’s driving record and continued cases in order to find a judge who would comply with the request to “fix” the ticket. This alleged scheme was “pervasive and frequent,” according to the indictment.
The judges’ staffs are believed to have assisted with the method and concealed it by “shredding paperwork, speaking to one another in code and trusting only certain individuals and not others to carry out the scheme,” according to the indictment. “This system was not discussed openly, and a well-understood conspiracy of silence fell over the system and its participants.”
Sullivan, who owns Fireside Tavern, 2701 S. Marshall St., allegedly backed the customers of the Whitman establishment, a former politician and an area ward leader, directing them to leave documentation at his bar, according to the indictment. Mulgrew also supposedly assisted politicians, including an area ward leader. The pair is believed to have accepted requests, made requests to fellow judges through their staffers and granted their colleagues the same courtesy when asked.
Sullivan also allegedly declared one individual “not guilty” after he did not appear for his hearing, according to the indictment. In another case, an individual who left the scene of an accident during which another auto was damaged and was facing the loss of his license, said to Sullivan, “[I] ain’t got no money, you know what I mean?” to which Sullivan allegedly said, “I know you’re broke. ... you’re good.” Another judge dismissed his case the next day.
The indictment lists 50 such citations that involved speeding, running a red light, driving an unregistered vehicle and towing a vehicle without a towing agreement, among others.
The alleged conspiracy defrauded the City and the State, which would have split the fines evenly, and also undermined citizens’ confidence in the City’s judicial system, U.S. Attorney Zane David Memeger said.
“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,” he said.
Sullivan could face up to 440 years in prison, three years of supervised release, a $5.5-million fine and a $2,200 special assessment if convicted, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Mulgrew, if convicted, could receive up to 145 years in prison, three years of supervised release, a $2-million fine and an $800 special assessment.
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Many residents know Friends of Dickinson Square Park as the current nonprofit that holds weekly cleanups and whose commitment helped to convince the City to renovate the park situated at Fourth and Tasker streets in Dickinson Narrows.