Well-timed gifts of seafood and porn had swayed court decisions Henry Alfano's way before.
But this time, facing potential conviction in a wide-ranging judicial corruption case, the Southwest Philadelphia businessman opted not to take his chances.
In a last-minute decision, Alfano, 68, pleaded guilty Thursday to 13 federal counts of conspiracy and mail and wire fraud tied to a long-standing arrangement with then-Traffic Court Judge Fortunato Perri Sr.
As Alfano told the court during a 45-minute hearing, from 2008 to 2011 he kept Perri well-fed and helped fulfill his vices. In exchange, Perri, who retired before he was indicted in January 2013, cleared the way for his longtime pal's tickets to be dismissed.
"Judge Perri was a dear and old friend," Alfano told U.S. District Judge Lawrence Stengel. "But what I did, asking him for consideration, was extremely wrong and illegal. And for that I am sorry."
Alfano's guilty plea Thursday is the fifth in a case federal prosecutors brought last year against two businessmen and nine former judges in Philadelphia's Traffic Court. It came even as lawyers continued to select jurors for the seven remaining defendants who have opted to take their case to trial.
Prosecutors allege that for years Traffic Court justice ran along two-tracks: one for the politically connected and another for everyone else. They say judges routinely dismissed citations or reduced fines for friends, and Perri and Alfano were two of the worst offenders.
Before Thursday, though, Alfano's lawyers, Carmen Nasuti and Jeffrey Miller, had described the charges against their client as "a reach," and "a low-level alleged criminal offense" overblown into a criminal case.
Thursday, they struck a different tone.
"When something goes on for so long, people begin to accept the wrongness as routine," Nasuti said.
Alfano, a former police officer who now resides in Clementon, maintains a small Southwest Philadelphia business empire that includes an auto salvage yard, a scrap operation and a towing business. In 2001, Perri awarded his friend a no-bid towing contract for the Traffic Court.
Alfano is also the landlord of two Philadelphia strip clubs, the Oasis Gentleman's Club and Christine's Cabaret, and Venus Video Adult Superstore.
It remained unclear Thursday what prompted Alfano to plead guilty. But the fact that Perri, 77, pleaded guilty last year may have influenced his decision. Also problematic were the dozens of conversations between the pair that investigators had amassed - and which Alfano's lawyers sought to keep out of court.
"When you call, I move, brother, believe me," Perri told Alfano in one, according to court filings.
Later, the judge would reassure his friend, "You're in good hands with Allstate," after agreeing to fix a speeding ticket.
Alfano, who also owns an auto repair business, offered on the tapes to fix up Perri's cars for free and, occasionally, leave a little something extra in the trunk.
In one recorded call, Perri instructed Alfano to place porn videos the businessman had offered as a gift in the back of a vehicle.
"Pack 'em real nice . . . tape 'em and all," Perri was quoted as saying.
On Thursday, Nasuti offered little explanation of that part of the relationship between his client and the judge.
"I guess in retirement he got bored and needed videos to look at," the lawyer said.