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Ex-Traffic Court judge sentenced to prison in bracelet case

Thomasine Tynes pleaded guilty to a "restricted-activities" charge for accepting a 2G Tiffany bracelet from a lobbyist.

Former Philadelphia Traffic Judge Thomasine Tynes enters the Criminal Justice Center on Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2014.  ( ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER )
Former Philadelphia Traffic Judge Thomasine Tynes enters the Criminal Justice Center on Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2014. ( ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER )Read moreDN

A JUDGE yesterday hurled harsh words at former Philadelphia Traffic Court President Judge Thomasine Tynes, who tearfully said in court that she didn't immediately realize it was wrong to accept a $2,000 Tiffany bracelet from an undercover informant posing as a lobbyist.

"I learned in kindergarten that if someone gave me something, they expected something in return for it," said Common Pleas Judge Thomas Gavin, of Chester County, who was asked to preside over the Philadelphia case. "And if someone gave me a bracelet . . . I would know there's some quid pro quo there for sure."

Gavin recognized that Tynes, 71, has done a lot of good in her life, but said she won't be remembered for those deeds.

"You're going to be remembered as someone who sat down with a snake and you got bit," he said. "It's a heck of a legacy."

Gavin then sentenced Tynes to 11 1/2 to 23 months behind bars after she pleaded guilty yesterday to a charge of "restricted activities - accept improper influence," an ungraded felony.

The District Attorney's Office dropped other charges against Tynes, including bribery, in exchange for her plea.

Gavin said he thought Tynes deserved a harsher sentence, but he felt bound by an agreement reached between the prosecution and defense in which Tynes would not get extra jail time above a two-year federal prison term to which she recently was sentenced in a ticket-fixing case.

In the federal case, Tynes was convicted by a jury in July of two counts of perjury. The federal judge who sentenced her two weeks ago ordered her to begin her prison sentence Feb. 6.

Gavin said his sentence would be concurrent to the federal one and would begin on the same day.

Tynes' plea yesterday was the first conviction in an undercover-sting-and-bribery case revived by the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office this spring after state Attorney General Kathleen Kane shut down the operation, claiming it was not prosecutable and possibly was tainted by racism.

D.A. Seth Williams in a news conference Tuesday announcing two more arrests in the case - state Reps. Vanessa Lowery Brown and Ronald Waters, both Philly Democrats - on bribery and related charges, said there was no evidence that the sting operation had been tainted by racial targeting.

In the undercover sting, Tynes - who, like Brown and Waters, is African-American - was secretly audio-recorded by a confidential informant - Tyron Ali, who was posing as a lobbyist - accepting a $2,000 sterling-silver Tiffany charm bracelet from him during an Aug. 10, 2011, lunch at the Palm Restaurant, at Broad and Walnut streets in Center City.

The informant told Tynes, then Traffic Court's president judge, that the bracelet was "in appreciation for her efforts to try to obtain" a Traffic Court debt-collections contract for his clients, Assistant District Attorney Mark Gilson said in court yesterday.

Tynes also was told by the informant that if he were successful in landing the contract, she "would be rewarded . . . with a share of any money that would come from the collections contract," Gilson said.

Before she was sentenced yesterday, Tynes tearfully and profusely apologized to Gavin. About the bracelet, she said, "When this thing was presented to me, I really in a way, as growing up, always accepted something that someone gave, [said] thank you."

She said when she realized how much the bracelet cost, she was upset and tried to return it to Ali, but couldn't find him, and made out a check for the bracelet.

Gilson told Gavin that Tynes was recorded by the informant in a phone call in November 2011 expressing concern about the federal investigation in the ticket-fixing case and about having accepted the bracelet. But, he said, Tynes did not return the bracelet or give a check to the informant.

Gilson said that Tynes began to cooperate with the D.A.'s Office in the sting case before she was charged in October, and that on Oct. 30 she testified before the state grand jury investigating the matter, "admitting her guilt, accepting responsibility, expressing remorse and corroborating much of the evidence" regarding her case and that against others.

Tynes' lawyer, Louis Busico, said Tynes' decision to cooperate was "at her own peril."

Many of the people she testified about were "from her community," he said, "yet she gave information about what those people were doing - the where, the when, the how and the why."

Gilson said the D.A.'s grand-jury investigation is ongoing.

Waters' lawyer, Fortunato "Fred" Perri Jr., said yesterday that Waters is considering a possible guilty plea to "charges other than the bribery offense."

Brown's lawyer, Luther Weaver III, said he had no comment.