A former solicitor for Lower Southampton Township was sentenced to 30 months’ probation in federal court Wednesday for lying to authorities about his role in a scheme to bilk money from an outdoor advertising executive.
Michael J. Savona, 47, found himself drawn into the corrupt machinations of former District Court Judge John Waltman and Public Safety Director Robert Hoopes, who were convicted of corruption and money laundering charges in June.
In court, Savona recounted for U.S. District Judge Gene E.K. Pratter how Waltman approached him to aid in the scheme, and said he now regretted his actions.
“I’ve been thinking a lot about this, and I don’t know that I can adequately explain what was going through my mind at that moment,” Savona told the judge. He said he should have gone to the authorities immediately, but was swayed into helping the then-influential Bucks County district judge.
Savona is identified numerous times as “Solicitor #1” in the federal indictment of Waltman. In his capacity as solicitor, he helped negotiate a kickback to Waltman and Hoopes in 2016 from Robert DeGoria, who was seeking to build a billboard in a municipal park, the indictment said. Prosecutors maintained that he also ferried the judge’s wishes to the township board, promising to make sure it would approve it.
In conversations secretly recorded by investigators, Savona outlined how he planned to push DeGoria to pay a $10,000 fee to Raff Consulting, a phony company created by Bernard Rafferty, a former constable also implicated in Waltman’s schemes.
During the jocular conversations, Savona bragged to Waltman about how firm he was with DeGoria, promising to “squeeze" DeGoria to get the highest possible amount out of him.
The deal fell apart, and was never brought before the supervisors.
As he stood before the judge in court Wednesday, Savona appeared contrite.
“I hope this will teach other lawyers ... that this is not what you’re supposed to do when you’re in my shoes,” he said.
Savona pleaded guilty to making false statements to law enforcement in 2018, having initially claimed during an interview with FBI agents that he didn’t know about the bribes being paid to Waltman by DeGoria.
Savona was facing a maximum sentence of six months in prison, but prosecutors noted that he provided “reliable, significant information” that aided the investigation in Lower Southampton, and had agreed to testify against Waltman had there been a trial. (Waltman and Hoopes both pleaded guilty.)
Savona resigned from the law firm Eastburn & Gray shortly after Waltman was indicted, and also gave up solicitor positions in Warminster, New Britain Borough, Conshohocken, and Lower Gwynedd.