Pastor testifies at Singletary fraud trial

Posted: May 30, 2014

The agreement, as federal prosecutors described it Wednesday, was unseemly - and cemented among church pews.

In 2010, Willie Singletary, then a Philadelphia Traffic Court judge and a rising young pastor, offered to take care of a speeding ticket given to the wife of a fellow church leader - and even agreed to pick up the citation during a break between the man's Sunday sermons.

But as Garth G. Gittens, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in West Philadelphia told jurors Wednesday, his decision to turn to a ministerial colleague for help with the traffic citation never struck him as inappropriate.

"I felt the ticket was unfair," he said. "I called Judge Singletary to find out what's my next move."

Gittens' testimony came on the second day in the conspiracy and fraud trial of Singletary, 33, and five other former judges accused of fixing tickets while serving at the Philadelphia Traffic Court.

It offered jurors their first up-close glimpse of the favorable treatment prosecutors say was routinely extended to friends, family and those with the right political connections. Those breaks, they say, cost the city thousands in unpaid revenue and fines.

Defense lawyers for the judges describe those allegations as "a pattern in search of a crime" and stress that their clients never accepted bribes or favors in exchange.

But Gittens, who had twice invited Singletary to preach to his 1,000-member congregation, said Wednesday that he turned to the judge not for a break, but to right what he viewed as an injustice.

A Philadelphia police officer pulled over his wife, Gillian, in July 2010 as she crossed the Walt Whitman Bridge on her way home from church. Gittens said he believed that his wife, as a black woman driving a Lexus, had been racially profiled.

Singletary's purported response: "Don't worry about it." Weeks later, Gittens said, the judge called back and told his friend that neither he nor his wife need show up for court.

"I was of the opinion that the procedural matters I had asked him for would be taken care of," the pastor testified.

It was the second time so far that a government witness had dropped Singletary's name in connection with an attempt to fix a ticket. Ruth C. Dietrich, a retired district justice in Bucks County, told jurors Tuesday that while she was assigned to hear cases in the Philadelphia Traffic Court, Singletary approached her with a citation and asked for a favorable decision. She refused.

On Wednesday, Singletary's lawyer William J. Brennan Jr. questioned Dietrich's resolve. He and defense lawyers for other former judges repeatedly questioned Dietrich under cross-examination about past instances in which she had extended discretion in cases that came before her.

At one point, Dietrich acknowledged that she nearly always found speeders who challenged their tickets guilty, if police had already cut them a break on the speed at which they were driving. Couldn't that be seen as fixing a ticket?, Brennan asked.

"I guess it could," she said.

As for the ticket given to the pastor's wife, Brennan emphasized that Singletary had never asked Gittens for money, gifts, or "some Godfather-esque" pledge of a debt that would be repaid.

And the judge never told Gittens that the ticket had been fixed, his lawyer said.

What, then, did Gittens believe happened to his wife's citation?, asked prosecutor Denise S. Wolf.

"I assumed that justice had prevailed," the pastor said. ". . . Or something."

Testimony is expected to resume Thursday.


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