Karen Heller: Karen Heller: Traffic Court? Try 'Club'

Posted: February 01, 2013

Sometimes, all it took to fix a parking ticket in this town was a little deodorizer and some shellfish.

This was part of the Friends and Family Plan at Traffic Court, as revealed in the federal indictment of nine current and former judges charged with conspiracy and fraud. Also charged: the court fixer, the owner of Number One Translations, and a junk vendor/landlord of two "gentlemen's clubs."

The indictment reflects the court's "two-track system of justice," as an earlier inquiry noted, one for the politically connected, the other for "the unwitting general public." The lucky folks in the former group had their traffic citations treated with loving care - dismissed, reduced, shredded - while the rest of us clueless schmoes dutifully paid our tickets.

You don't have to be a lawyer to be a "judge" at Traffic Court. You don't even have to be a law-abiding motorist. Former Judge Willie Singletary, removed last year for showing a court cashier cellphone photos of his disrobed and erect member, once had a suspended driver's license and $11,500 in unpaid tickets.

It should come as no shock that Singletary is among the Notorious Nine. Six years ago, he campaigned for office telling potential donors that they would get favorable treatment in his court, promising on video, "Now you all want me to get there, you're all going to need my hookup, right?"

Traffic Court turns out to be a club, albeit a dingy, depressing club with inferior lighting and lousy atmosphere located off Spring Garden in a part of town that reminds visitors of neither.

At this club, according to the indictment, insiders were treated to a "show" hearing that was all performance, sort of All My Tickets, rather than actual justice. Members of the fixed-ticket program were able to "judge shop," like speed dating for moving violations.

There was an honor system. "Don't say nothing to nobody out there," Judge Michael Sullivan told a construction company owner.

Members talked in code. Citations were marked for "consideration," as if they were Oscar nominees. When a Delaware County judge asked if his son had to attend a hearing, top court administrator William Hird told him, "I don't think anybody is going to that party."

Actually, it is a party any time you don't have to appear at Traffic Court.

Instead, the indictment alleges that insiders could seek remedies at the more convivial Fireside Tavern, owned by Sullivan, "a regular South Philly dive bar" as one Yelp review states, comparable to The Simpsons' Moe's Tavern. "Rum and coke and a PBR for $5? Yes, please." Convenient! A mixed drink, a Pabst, a fixed ticket, all for a five-spot. Patrons left parking citations and related documents for Sullivan in a box behind the bar.

Among the indictment's shockers is that Hird, the fixer, handled requests for local politicians, "including two Philadelphia ward leaders."

Only two? Out of 66?

Are the other petty potentates out of the loop or simply better drivers?

There were businesses fluent in the creative ways of Traffic Court, chief among them defendant Robert Moy's Number One Translations, which also allegedly served as Number One Ticket-Fixing.

How fortunate it was to know former Senior Judge Fortunato Perri Sr., who informed junk peddler/strip-club landlord Henry "Eddie" Alfano, "You're in good hands with Allstate."

Was Alfano ever! But so was Perri, who told his buddy, "When you call, I move, brother, believe me. I move everybody."

In return for fixing tickets, Alfano is charged with giving Perri free car repairs and maintenance, even "deodorizing" a vehicle. Alfano also provided landscaping and "dozens of shrimp and crab cakes," a veritable seafood buffet. On a dozen occasions, Alfano gave Perri videos.

Most likely, these were not Disney titles. Alfano is landlord of the porn emporium Venus Video. Perri once asked him to pack the movies "real nice . . . tape 'em and all."

During the earlier inquiry, court officials believed they weren't doing anything wrong because no money was going into their pockets, forgetting about the untold lost revenue to the city and commonwealth. This is so Philadelphia, where people allegedly break the law while thinking small, charged with fixing tickets and getting indicted by the feds over crustaceans and videos.

Contact Karen Heller at 215-854-2586 or kheller@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter at @kheller.

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