IN HANDING down a prison sentence yesterday to former Philadelphia Traffic Court Judge Robert Mulgrew, a federal judge made clear that the practice of "ticket fixing" that had so entrenched the former Traffic Court was wrong and corrupt and had to be punished.
"There's more going on here than one count of perjury," U.S. District Judge Lawrence Stengel said, adding that Mulgrew "was deeply involved in activities in what we've come to learn was a very corrupt system."
Mulgrew and three other former Traffic Court judges were convicted by a jury in July of lying to a grand jury or to the FBI. Mulgrew was the first to be sentenced.
Stengel sentenced him to a year and a half in federal prison on his perjury conviction. The jury in July found that he had lied before a grand jury in 2011.
Stengel ordered that the new sentence be consecutive to a 2 1/2-year sentence Mulgrew is serving in an unrelated case. In that case, he had pleaded guilty to fraudulently using about $200,000 in state grant money given to a South Philly nonprofit he had helped run.
Dressed in a green prison jumpsuit and looking a bit pale after having spent three months in federal prison in the nonprofit case, Mulgrew, 57, heaved a sigh when he heard the judge say that his new sentence would be "consecutive" to his current one.
Moments earlier, Mulgrew stood before the judge and said he had answered the grand jury's questions to his best ability and "never willingly made a mistake."
At one point, he paused and lifted his hand to his eye. He then spoke in a shaky voice and walked back to the defense table appearing close to tears.
In July, the jury had acquitted Mulgrew and six co-defendants of all fraud charges. But Stengel wrote in an opinion last month that the evidence at trial clearly showed that the Traffic Court judges were "fixing tickets." He noted, however, that the government didn't prove the specific elements related to the wire- and mail-fraud charges.
Stengel credited the FBI and the U.S. Attorney's Office for opening the window into Traffic Court's pervasive system of corruption and privilege.
Mulgrew's lawyer, Angie Halim, contended that there was no evidence that Mulgrew - who became a Traffic Court judge in January 2008 - gave preferential treatment to well-connected ticket holders.
Much of yesterday's hearing focused on supporters of Mulgrew, who spoke of the long hours he gave to community service in his Pennsport neighborhood in South Philadelphia and to his being a wonderful family man.
Halim noted that 127 letters were submitted on Mulgrew's behalf and that an additional 101 people were willing to say that Mulgrew is a community pillar.
About 50 of his supporters came to court. His wife, Elizabeth "Betsy" Mulgrew, said the happiest days of her life began after she got married. "My family has suffered enough," she told the judge, adding: "I want my dignity back. I want my husband back home."
The couple's four adult children told the judge that their father has been a role model to them and is a good person.
Halim asked Stengel not to give Mulgrew additional prison time on top of the sentence he is serving in the nonprofit case. Or, she said, the judge should sentence Mulgrew to probation, home confinement or community service.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Anthony Wzorek told the judge that the request of no extra prison time was like "asking for two crimes for the price of one." Prosecutors asked the judge to sentence Mulgrew to about three years in prison, above the guideline range.
Stengel's sentence was at the low end of the 18- to 24-month sentencing-guideline range.