Former Philadelphia Traffic Court Judge Thomasine Tynes was sentenced to two years in federal prison for perjury Thursday, and acknowledged for the first time that she had fixed tickets from the start of her two-decade career on the bench.
"I didn't invent the system at Traffic Court," she said, explaining her role in the cronyism that brought down the court. "I went along to get along."
That tearful admission prompted an even more surprising concession from her lawyer.
"These guys were fixing tickets from square one," said Louis R. Busico. "We got lucky at trial. The evidence was overwhelming."
Their comments marked the first time any of Traffic Court's former judges publicly acknowledged systemic ticket fixing since a federal jury acquitted five of them of fraud and conspiracy charges this year.
Tynes, 71, and three others were convicted of lying to federal authorities about requests for "consideration" that were routinely passed between chambers, and traffic citations they dismissed for friends, family, and political allies.
After the scandal broke, state lawmakers disbanded the court and transferred its authority to a new division of Municipal Court.
Tynes' admission Thursday of the role she played in the court's destruction came two weeks before she is scheduled to plead guilty in a separate corruption case - this time to state charges for accepting a $2,000 Tiffany bracelet from an undercover informant seeking help in landing a towing contract.
But her words were far from the only surprise at a sentencing hearing that at times veered toward the surreal.
Before the proceedings began, the former judge, in a black dress and pearls, planted herself at the front of the courtroom, and greeted guests with smiles and hugs. She guided some to their seats like an usher at a funeral.
A member of her church, sitting the audience, led others in a chant of "What the church say?" Over and over, the crowd responded, "Amen."
Later, Tynes' longtime gynecologist, Richard Nemiroff, told the court that he believes she suffers from dementia, a condition that he said called into question her ability to perjure herself or know what she was doing when she accepted a bracelet at the center of the state case.
"It was not her particular style," he said of the pricey bauble.
And before the hearing was through, federal prosecutors and their city counterparts took swings at each other in a prickly exchange over Tynes' continued involvement in the local probe.
That case sprang from a statewide sting investigation that allegedly caught Tynes and four state legislators on tape accepting cash or other bribes from the undercover informant.
Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane shuttered the probe in 2013 without bringing any charges. It has since been revived by Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams with Tynes as its first target.
As part of her plea agreement in that case, Tynes agreed to cooperate with the ongoing investigation and city prosecutors vowed to recommend a sentence of no more than the two years she received in her federal case.
But testifying Thursday, Assistant District Attorney Mark Gilson, citing grand jury secrecy, offered few details as to the extent of Tynes' cooperation.
His silence left Assistant U.S. Attorney Denise Wolf twisting in frustration as she questioned whether Tynes should get credit for her help in the state case.
"It's almost like she's not being punished there at all," Wolf said.
Gilson snapped back, "I don't agree with that."
The back-and-forth appeared to have little effect on U.S. District Judge Lawrence F. Stengel as he weighed Tynes' sentence for lying about ticket fixing.
Instead, he listened attentively as Busico and Wolf offered vastly different characterizations of a woman who rose from an abusive childhood to become the first black woman to be named president judge of Traffic Court.
"She has overcome sexism. She has overcome racism," Busico said. "And when she was put in a prestigious position, she became an inspiration to a generation and a role model."
Wolf, though, was loath to forgive Tynes for her crimes.
Quoting the words of State Rep. Vanessa Brown, caught on tape in the state corruption investigation, she described Tynes as a "cunning" rule-breaker - a woman who "likes to play ball" as long as "you make it worth her while."
Tynes didn't stop at fixing tickets and accepting a bracelet as a bribe, Wolf said.
Against a judge's order, Tynes continued to contact her former secretary, a chief government witness, during her trial and at one point this year was investigated by federal authorities as defrauding a dead relative's estate.
"Judge Tynes," Wolf said, pausing to address the former judge. "We believe you need to go to jail for your criminal conduct."
Ultimately, Stengel agreed. In addition to her prison term, he ordered Tynes to pay a $5,000 fine and gave her until Feb. 6 to begin serving her sentence.
But as she left the courtroom Thursday, Tynes refused to be defined by the actions that will land her in prison.
"There's more to it than that," she told a supporter. "I'll write my own story."
Inquirer staff writer Craig R. McCoy contributed to this article.