Former traffic court judge pleads guilty

Fortunato Perri Sr., former judge.
Fortunato Perri Sr., former judge.
Posted: March 14, 2013

Fortunato Perri Sr. was once hailed as a tough but efficient judge and administrator at Philadelphia's Traffic Court, the man behind a surge in collections and a crackdown on the city's worst scofflaws.

They called him "The Terminator" around court. Perri basked in the role.

"The day they pulled me out of my mother's womb, they said 'This guy's going to be a traffic judge,'" he told The Inquirer in 2002.

This morning, a shell of that once lively judge shuffled slowly into a federal courtroom - and onto the traffic bench's increasingly crowded wall of shame.

Now 76, Perri admitted fixing dozens of tickets for friends and associates during his Traffic Court tenure, including for a strip-club landlord who gave him free movies and car repairs and for contractors who built him a patio and gave him other freebies.

In a 30-minute hearing before U.S. District Judge Robert F. Kelly, he pleaded guilty to conspiracy, mail and wire fraud. His was the third such plea by a former Traffic Court judge since federal prosecutors unsealed ticket-fixing charges against nine past and current members of the bench last month.

The indictment said corruption was rampant and pervasive in Traffic Court, with judges routinely dismissing cases, acquitting violators or reducing fines or charges for connected friends and associates. The case has sparked new calls and legislation to disband or reform the beleaguered court.

Perri's plea was not unexpected. Like H. Warren Hogeland and Kenneth N. Miller, the other ex-judges who last month admitted fixing tickets, Perri had previously waived his right to have the charges against him taken to a grand jury, a step usually reserved for defendants who intend to plead guilty.

But his court appearance was his first since the charges were filed, and Perri looked wearied and, at times, confused. He needed a magnifying glass to read the documents, and more than once tilted his head first toward his lawyer, Brian McMonagle, to get guidance before answering routine questions from the judge, such as how far he went in school.

McMonagle told the judge that Perri has had "a couple of strokes" but understood the proceeding and wanted to plead guilty. A few rows back sat Perri's son and namesake, Fortunato Perri Jr., himself a prominent defense attorney and McMonagle's partner.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Denise Wolf, one of the prosecutors, told the judge that Perri conspired to fix dozens of tickets during his tenure on the court, which stretched from his appointment in 1997 until 2011.

She cited tickets Perri fixed in 2010 from Henry P. Alfano, who ran Century Motors, a towing and auto-repair business, and was landlord for two strip clubs in the city.

"I see Century on [a ticket], it's gold," Perri told Alfano during one of the thousands of conversations secretly recorded by the FBI.

"Mr. Perri was very responsive to Mr. Alfano's requests," Wolf told the judge.

Alfano is one of three non-judges charged in the indictment. He has pleaded not guilty.

Perri also got a free patio and reduced landscaping services after fixing tickets for employees of a construction and landscaping business, according to Wolf.

Prosecutors say such favors not only deprived the city of revenue but also allowed reckless drivers to go unpunished. One of the tickets Perri had dismissed, for instance, was for a truck driver cited and facing a license suspension after his snow-covered rig dumped ice and snow on other cars along I-95.

Perri's plea agreement doesn't require him to cooperate with investigators but would not preclude it, either, according to Wolf. As it stands, he faces six months or less in prison under federal sentencing guidelines. His lawyers could argue for home detention or probation, citing his health or other conditions.

Kelly tentatively scheduled sentencing for June 21.

Like the others, Perri remains free under a $20,000 bond. McMonagle and Perri's son declined to comment as they gently escorted the former judge from the courtroom.

Lynn Marks, the Executive Director of Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, a group advocating reform, called the plea "another step in the long process toward restoring public confidence in Philadelphia's courts."


Contact John P. Martin at 215-925-2649, at jmartin@phillynews.com or @JPMartinInky on Twitter.

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