FEDERAL PROSECUTORS in the upcoming trial of six former Traffic Court judges and two businessmen are asking a judge to grant immunity to 79 people in exchange for compelling them to testify at the trial.
It turns out that many of these 79 people have apparently cooperated with the government and allegedly played some role, perhaps minor, in the alleged wide-ranging ticket-fixing scheme.
"In 25 years or 30 years of handling federal cases on both sides, immunities are far and few in between" defense lawyer Jeffrey M. Miller said yesterday. "I've never heard of a case, never been involved in a case" in which the government is seeking 79 immunities in just one case.
Miller, a lawyer for defendant Henry "Eddie" Alfano, one of the businessmen indicted in the Traffic Court case, previously worked as a federal prosecutor.
In a motions hearing Monday, Miller told U.S. District Judge Robert Kelly that the number of immunities being sought by the government could be "a record."
The names on the list of witnesses (PDF) whom the government is trying to compel to testify include City Councilman Kenyatta Johnson; John Fenton, an aide to Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell; and ward leaders William Dolbow, Michael McAleer, Emilio Vazquez and Matt Myers.
Thomas Mosher, spokesman for Johnson, said yesterday that the councilman "can't comment at this time" because of the pending trial and because federal prosecutors advised him not to comment. Fenton, Dolbow, McAleer, Vazquez and Myers could not be reached yesterday.
Miller said the 79 people on the list had tickets fixed for themselves, tried to get tickets fixed for someone else, or worked for the city or Traffic Court and helped to get tickets fixed.
At the hearing Monday, he tried to argue that Alfano should have his charges dismissed because of selective prosecution. He contended that "a good deal of [the 79 people] fall into the exact same category as Alfano," but prosecutors selectively chose to indict him and not the others.
"Why was he selected from this herd?" Miller asked.
Alfano was accused in "nine stinking tickets - none of them his," Miller said yesterday. And "his contact was with an ex-Traffic Court judge," retired Judge Fortunato Perri Sr., who was a longtime friend of his, and not a sitting judge, Miller said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Denise Wolf said at the hearing that Alfano differed from the people on the list because he had a "regular quid-pro-quo" relationship with Perri in which he gave Perri gifts - porn videos, free car repairs, free seafood - in exchange for getting tickets fixed for others.
She added: "The herd he [Miller] has talked about has cooperated with the government. Mr. Alfano has not." She also said there was stronger evidence against Alfano than the others.
The judge denied Alfano's motion for the charges to be dismissed against him.
Patty Hartman, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office, said yesterday her office would not comment on the case.
In a court filing in March, Wolf wrote that many of the people Alfano claims are comparable to his situation "have cooperated with the government and admitted their wrongful conduct under oath or will testify accordingly at trial."
Miller said he did not know to what extent people on the list cooperated. Some of these people may have cooperated in some way, but may not be willing to testify at trial, he said.
The judge will hold a hearing on the immunity issue May 8.
The trial for the six former Traffic Court judges and two businessmen is slated for May 19.