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PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - Nine current and former Philadelphia Traffic Court judges were indicted for fraud, conspiracy and other charges on Thursday in what federal prosecutors called a culture of ticket fixing.
A federal grand jury that was convened to hear evidence of the scheme said to involve judges, politicians and businessmen also indicted the court's former director of records and two business owners.
"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," U.S. Attorney Zane David Memeger said in a statement.
The 77-count indictment said "the ticket fixing was pervasive and frequent," continued from July 2008 until September 2011 and cost the city an untold amount.
"For years, even beyond the dates of the conspiracy charged, there existed a culture of ticket fixing at Traffic Court," it said.
The grand jury found that judges and high-level administrators at Traffic Court arranged, received and granted requests for ticket fixing.
Tickets were fixed by being dismissed, finding the driver not guilty, or finding a defendant guilty of a lesser offense, the indictment said.
The indictment said that local politicians, including ward leaders, politically connected individuals, and those with influential positions in business, labor, industry or society, asked Traffic Court judges or administrators for preferential treatment for constituents, relatives, friends, and associates who had been issued citations.
Traffic judges, who are elected, seek the endorsement of local politicians to win their post.
One business owner, Henry Alfano, 68, described in the indictment as the owner of an automotive business and the landlord for two gentlemen's clubs, is accused of fixing tickets for his friends. In exchange, he paid a judge with free car repairs, car maintenance, car towing, videos and seafood.
Another businessman, Robert Moy, 56, owner of a translation service, sometimes guaranteed his customers favorable results on their traffic tickets, and did so by working through a traffic court judge, the indictment said.
In all, two sitting judges were named in the indictment, along with a senior judge, three former judges, and three judges from suburban counties who sometimes served on the city court. They were identified as sitting judges Michael Sullivan and Michael Lowry; former judges Robert Mulgrew, Willie Singletary and Thomasine Tynes; suburban judges Mark Bruno, H. Warren Hogeland and Kenneth Miller; senior judge Furtunato Perri; and former court director of records William Hird.
All of the defendants were charged with conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud. Mulgrew, Lowry and Tynes were each additionally charged with committing perjury before the federal grand jury. Singletary and Hird were also charged with lying to the FBI.
If convicted, they face prison terms of up to 440 years and fines as high as $5.5 million, prosecutors said.
William Brennan, a lawyer who represents Singletary, told Reuters on Thursday that he will enter a plea of not guilty for his client.
"I'm pleased after reviewing this lengthy document, this indictment, that the government does not allege that my client took one thin dime," Brennan said.
Editing by Barbara Goldberg and James Dalgleish