IN A PASSIONATE plea to a federal judge, the defense lawyer for Thomasine Tynes said yesterday that the former president judge of Philadelphia Traffic Court did wrong, but should not have to go to prison.
"We got lucky at trial," attorney Louis Busico surprisingly admitted in a courtroom packed with about 60 of Tynes' supporters. "The evidence was overwhelming that those guys were fixing tickets from Day 1. But mail fraud and wire fraud were the square pegs in the round holes."
Busico argued that Tynes' cooperation with a local bribery investigation, her myriad of health problems and her life's story from overcoming abuse to rising up as the first female, African-American president judge of Traffic Court should all be taken into account and that the "fabric of her soul" should be rewarded.
U.S. District Judge Lawrence Stengel took all that into account, but said he could not hand down a no-prison sentence. "I think a sentence of nonconfinement would really undermine the sense of deterrence," he said.
As he ordered Tynes, 71, to serve two years in federal prison on her two perjury convictions, Tynes, with long, straight gray hair, stood tall in her black dress and gray jacket, showing no visible reaction.
She was one of four former Traffic Court judges who were convicted by a jury in July of lying to a grand jury or the FBI about ticket-fixing - the practice whereby judges gave favorable outcomes to ticket holders who were well-connected to the judges or court employees - at the former Philadelphia Traffic Court.
Tynes and her six co-defendants in the trial were acquitted of all fraud charges. The jury did not find that the specific elements relating to the wire- and mail-fraud charges were proven.
Tynes told Stengel she was truly sorry for what she did. "I would like to apologize for the shame, embarrassment that I have brought to the criminal-justice system, to my peers, to my colleagues, the citizens of Philadelphia and my friends," she said.
Stengel said he doesn't get any "satisfaction, joy or vindication" from sending someone to prison.
"This is sad," he said.
But he said this was a case about "elected judges who showed a fundamental disregard for the law . . . and it's about an arrogance," whereby people in power felt "they could do no wrong."
In the early part of the hearing, a prosecutor in the District Attorney's Office, Mark Gilson, was asked by Busico to tell Stengel about Tynes' cooperation in a local grand-jury investigation.
Tynes was caught in 2011 in an audio recording accepting a $2,000 sterling silver Tiffany charm bracelet from Tyron Ali, a confidential informant who posed as a lobbyist. She was recorded offering to help him get an exclusive Traffic Court debt-collections contract.
The D.A.'s Office on Oct. 23 charged her with bribery, conflict of interest and related offenses. Gilson said Tynes has been cooperating in an ongoing grand-jury investigation - which could ensnare other public officials - and is to plead guilty Dec. 17 to conflict of interest, an ungraded felony, for her wrongdoing.
He said it would be easier if Tynes were not in custody on Dec. 17 because "it's really hard to get" federal inmates into the Criminal Justice Center for hearings.
When Assistant U.S. Attorney Denise Wolf cross-examined Gilson, a testy exchange occurred between the prosecutors.
"Are you asking this court not to send Ms. Tynes to custody?" Wolf asked.
"Am I asking this court to not send her to custody? No," Gilson snapped back, saying he was only asking that if she were to get a prison sentence, that it wouldn't begin immediately.
Later, Wolf asked Stengel to sentence Tynes to prison and asked that she serve her sentence immediately. Stengel's two-year sentence was within the 21- to 27-month guideline sentencing range. He allowed Tynes to delay her prison sentence until Feb. 6.