Perri Sr. pleads guilty to Traffic Court charges

Fortunato Perri Sr. leaves federal court. He joined Traffic Court in 1997.
Fortunato Perri Sr. leaves federal court. He joined Traffic Court in 1997.
Posted: March 15, 2013

Fortunato Perri Sr., once the scourge of scofflaws as a Philadelphia Traffic Court judge, shuffled meekly into another courtroom Wednesday to join the traffic bench's increasingly crowded wall of shame.

Perri, 76, pleaded guilty to federal corruption charges, admitting that he fixed dozens of tickets for friends and associates during his 14-year tenure in Traffic Court.

His favored recipients included a strip-club landlord who showered him with free movies, food and car repairs, and a pair of contractors, one who built him a patio and the other who gave him free or discounted landscaping.

In a 30-minute hearing before U.S. District Judge Robert F. Kelly, Perri pleaded guilty to conspiracy, mail fraud, and wire fraud. His was the third guilty plea by a former Traffic Court judge since federal prosecutors unsealed a wide-ranging ticket-fixing case six weeks ago against nine past and current members of the bench.

According to the grand jury indictment, corruption was pervasive in the court, where judges traded requests for "consideration," shorthand for dismissing citations or reducing fines or charges for friends and the politically connected. The case, the third involving Traffic Court in a generation, has renewed calls to disband or reform the court.

Perri, a onetime city ward leader and Republican state legislator, was tapped in 1997 by Gov. Tom Ridge for an unexpired term. He served as the court's administrative judge from 2000 to 2002, and later sat as a senior judge until 2011.

"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.

His plea had been expected. Like H. Warren Hogeland and Kenneth N. Miller, the other ex-judges who last month admitted fixing tickets, Perri had waived his right to have his case heard by a grand jury, a step usually reserved for defendants who intend to plead guilty.

In contrast to the brash judge nicknamed "the Terminator" when he was cracking down on scofflaws and boosting Traffic Court revenues, Perri on Wednesday appeared feeble, wearied, and confused.

During Wednesday's court appearance, his first since the charges were filed, Perri needed a magnifying glass to read documents. More than once he tilted his head toward his lawyer, Brian McMonagle, for 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. A few rows back in the room sat Fortunato Perri Jr., his son and McMonagle's law partner.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Denise Wolf told the judge that Perri conspired to fix dozens of tickets. She cited requests he fielded in 2010 from Henry P. Alfano, who ran Century Motors Inc., a towing and auto-repair business and was landlord for two strip clubs in the city.

According to Wolf, "Mr. Perri was very responsive to Mr. Alfano's requests."

She quoted from some of the thousands of conversations secretly recorded by the FBI.

"When you call . . . I move everybody," Perri told Alfano during one.

"I see Century on [a ticket], it's gold," he said in another.

Perri also got a free patio and reduced landscaping services after fixing tickets for employees of a construction firm and a landscaper, according to Wolf. She named the contractors by their initials.

Prosecutors say such favoritism deprived the city of revenue and allowed reckless drivers to go unpunished. One of the tickets Perri 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.

His plea memorandum implicated others in the court, including Judge Michael Sullivan and William Hird, the retired director of records.

According to the memo, Hird managed Perri's ticket-fixing requests, then gave the judge a printout of the case outcome. Perri called them "receipts" and passed them to Alfano and others, prosecutors said.

Alfano, Hird, and Sullivan have pleaded not guilty.

Perri's plea deal does not require him to cooperate but does not preclude it, Wolf said. As it stands, Perri faces six months or less in prison under sentencing guidelines. Kelly set sentencing for June 21.

The judge and his lawyer declined to comment as they left the courtroom.


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

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