West Philly pastor: Wife got speeding ticket, so I called Willie Singletary

Posted: May 30, 2014

GARTH GITTENS, pastor at Calvary Baptist Church in West Philadelphia, told a federal jury yesterday that after his wife got a ticket for speeding in July 2010, he called then-Traffic Court Judge Willie Singletary, who was a fellow pastor in the city.

"I thought it was unfair," Gittens testified of the ticket at the trial of six former Traffic Court judges and one businessman who are accused of participating in a widespread ticket-fixing scheme. "My wife said it was an unfair ticket. I wanted to know from Judge Singletary what's my next move."

Singletary told him, "Don't worry about it," Gittens testified.

The ticket, issued by a Delaware River Port Authority cop, cited Gittens' wife, Gillian, for speeding on the Walt Whitman Bridge.

Gittens - who was testifying under immunity given to him after the government solicited his testimony - said that a couple of weeks after he called the judge, Singletary stopped by Gittens' church office and picked up the ticket.

Then, on the night before his wife was to appear for her hearing in Traffic Court, at 8th and Spring Garden streets, Gittens said, Singletary called. "Pastor Singletary told me, 'By the way, she doesn't have to come into court tomorrow,' " Gittens said.

Gittens said he did not learn from Singletary what happened to the ticket. In her opening statement to the jury Tuesday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Denise Wolf said Singletary had found Gillian Gittens not guilty when she didn't even show up for her hearing.

The government alleges that a culture of ticket-fixing pervaded Traffic Court, whereby people who were socially or politically connected to judges, or to people the judges knew, received favorable outcomes on their tickets because of those connections.

On trial are ex-Traffic Court judges Singletary, 33, Michael J. Sullivan, 50, Michael Lowry, 58, Robert Mulgrew, 57, and Thomasine Tynes, who turns 71 on Sunday; Magisterial District Judge Mark A. Bruno, 50, of West Chester, who served in Traffic Court four times a year; and Chinatown businessman Robert Moy, 56.

All face conspiracy and fraud charges.

Under cross-examination by Singletary's lawyer, William J. Brennan, Gittens acknowledged that Singletary never told him he would "fix" Gillian Gittens' ticket. Gittens said his wife told him she had accelerated to pass "a truck that was meandering."

And he said he believed the ticket was unfair partly because of racial "profiling." His wife told him the cop followed her from Philadelphia into New Jersey while she was driving a Lexus he owned at the time.

The feds' first witness, Ruth Dietrich, a Bucks County judge who served as an on-and-off Philadelphia Traffic Court judge after she retired about 2005, testified Tuesday that Singletary had asked her to give favorable treatment to a ticket holder.

"He just brought a piece of paper with a citation number and asked to have a favorable decision," she said. "I rolled it up and gave it to the court liaison with me and said [the driver] can take a hearing like everybody else."

She said she did not give favorable treatment because "it's not legal."

Under cross-examination by Brennan yesterday, Dietrich acknowledged she was never actually asked by Singletary to "fix" the ticket. It was her perception that she was being asked that.

She also acknowledged she herself could be perceived as having fixed tickets.

Brennan read a summary of an interview she had given to the FBI in which she had said that in cases where police had already given a driver a break on a speeding ticket, she would automatically find the driver guilty.

"That would seem to me . . . to be an area when you prejudged matters," Brennan said. "You automatically found people guilty. They got their break."

"Yes," Dietrich said.

"Couldn't I say, well, you fixed cases. You automatically found people guilty?" Brennan asked.

"Yes," Dietrich replied.

"But that's not what you meant. You're not fixing cases," Brennan said. "Right?"

"I didn't think so," she said.

Under questioning by Assistant U.S. Attorney Anthony Wzorek, Dietrich said she had not decided any tickets based on who knew who in Traffic Court.


On Twitter: @julieshawphilly

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