Three former law enforcement officials in a Bucks County township, drunk on power, used their positions to create a pay-to-play culture that cast a long shadow of distrust among residents, a federal judge said Thursday in addressing two of the men responsible.

Judge Gene E.K. Pratter sentenced Bernard Rafferty, a former deputy constable in Lower Southampton Township, to 18 months in federal prison. Robert Hoopes, who once oversaw the township’s police and fire departments, received a 4½-year sentence.

The two were jailed for their admitted roles in a series of criminal schemes masterminded by John Waltman, an ex-district judge who ran the working-class suburb like an organized-crime boss.

“In a case involving public officials, an entire community is victimized, and that feeling lasts a long time,” Pratter said. “We have to consider the aura of stench that comes to a community when people expected to be selfless in acting for the community are anything but.”

Rafferty, 64, pleaded guilty last year to conspiracy to commit money laundering and mail fraud, admitting that he helped Waltman and Hoopes clean $400,000 they believed came from illicit drug sales and insurance fraud.

But in reality, the source of the funds was a group of undercover IRS agents.

Rafferty’s sentence — which also carries two years of supervised release and 100 hours of community service — was far below the four to six years prosecutors initially called for. They credited his willingness to come forward and provide credible information against Hoopes and Waltman.

Last September, Hoopes, 72, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit money laundering and four counts of extortion. In addition to his prison sentence, he was also ordered by Pratter to make a full restitution of the $40,000 he received through the money laundering, and pay $10,500 in fines. After his time behind bars, Hoopes will face 18 months of supervised release.

Robert Hoopes, the former public safety director of Lower Southampton Township, was sentenced to 4 1/2 years in prison.
JOSE F. MORENO / Staff Photographer
Robert Hoopes, the former public safety director of Lower Southampton Township, was sentenced to 4 1/2 years in prison.

The two faced Pratter just days after she handed Waltman, 61, the most stringent sentence of the group: 6½ years in federal prison on a variety of charges.

In addressing Pratter on Thursday, Rafferty profusely expressed remorse, apologizing to his family and friends assembled in the courtroom, as well as to the greater population of Lower Southampton.

“My judgment got clouded from the other two. I’ve known them and their families for a long time, and I allowed that friendship to influence me,” Rafferty said.

He added that Waltman, the judge who helped secure his position as deputy constable, implied that he would lose his job if he didn’t participate in the money laundering.

“It was a tough pill to swallow, knowing that I’d be stripped of my job and my business if I didn’t do as I was told,” Rafferty said, adding that it felt like “a gun was to my head.”

Prosecutors cast doubt on that explanation, saying that Rafferty was an active participant in the scheme, using his business, Raff Consulting, to write checks that obscured the source of the money. He also celebrated the fraud with the other two and the undercover agents, “toasting their success over dinner,” according to Richard Barrett, the lead prosecutor.

Barrett and his team have said that Hoopes and Rafferty were key members in a network of small-town leaders headed by Waltman.

John Waltman, a former magistrate judge in Bucks County, was sentenced for a staggering array of corrupt acts including using his office and his influence over the Lower Southhampton township council to extort bribes, fix court cases and steer township contracts to favored vendors.
DAVID SWANSON / Staff Photographer
John Waltman, a former magistrate judge in Bucks County, was sentenced for a staggering array of corrupt acts including using his office and his influence over the Lower Southhampton township council to extort bribes, fix court cases and steer township contracts to favored vendors.

They were particularly hard on Hoopes for helping men he thought were criminals launder hundreds of thousands of dollars in drug money.

“The breadth and insidious nature of Hoopes’ crimes is substantial and far-reaching. He abdicated his role as a law enforcement officer and betrayed the citizens of Lower Southampton Township,” prosecutors wrote in court filings. “Having taken an oath to protect the public, he turned his responsibility on its head and became a criminal himself.”

Family and friends came to Hoopes’ aid on Thursday, testifying as character witnesses about recent difficulties he’d faced, including personal losses and an addiction to alcohol.

Hoopes was at a loss to explain his behavior.

“I thought about what happened and why it happened, and I didn’t have an answer,” he said. “I lost all sense of identity, all sense of right and wrong. It was like I was playing a role outside my body.”

Pratter accepted and acknowledged the personal tragedies of Hoopes’ family, but admonished him for participating in the schemes, especially given his history as a police officer and lawyer.

“You knew, better than anyone in this collection of defendants,” she said, “the harm of what you were doing.”