A federal judge today sentenced a former Philadelphia Traffic Court judge, who was convicted of perjury in a ticket-fixing case, to one year and eight months in prison.
Michael Lowry, 59, of Mayfair, and three other judges who served on Traffic Court were convicted by a federal jury in July of either lying to a grand jury or to the FBI.
All four defendants and three others were acquitted of all fraud charges in the case.
The sentence handed down by U.S. District Judge Lawrence Stengel to Lowry was at the high end of his 15- to 21-month advisory guideline sentencing range. Stengel also ordered Lowry to serve one year of supervised release after his prison term and to do 100 hours of community service during that time.
Lowry testified before a grand jury on Oct. 25, 2011, during the feds' investigation into ticket-fixing at Traffic Court. The practice, which was known in Traffic Court as giving "consideration," referred to judges giving special treatment on traffic tickets to people who were well-connected to judges or people they knew.
In his grand-jury testimony, Lowry, when asked if he granted special favors, said he didn't and that he treated everybody in his courtroom the same. The federal jury in July found that he lied when he said that.
Lowry, a former business owner of Mayfair Appliances, also served as a Common Pleas judge's personal assistant in the early 2000s. At the time, he handled constituent services for state Sen. Michael McGeehan before becoming a Traffic Court judge in January 2008.
Before sentencing, he told Stengel: "I do regret allowing people outside my courtroom to ask for considerations. . . . I had the opportunity to say no. I didn't do it." He said he had the chance "to show true leadership," but didn't do it, and that he believed "in my heart and soul" that he was fair to everyone who was in his courtroom.
Lowry's lawyers, Bill DeStefano and Terri Pawelski, contended that Lowry should get a non-prison sentence because unlike other Traffic Court judges, they said, he took responsibility for his participation in the consideration process, not only before the grand jury, but also during a separate investigation of Traffic Court commissioned by then-state Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald Castille.
The latter investigation was done by the firm Chadwick Associates. A Chadwick investigator testified at a previous hearing that Lowry "was more cooperative than any of the other judges that we interviewed," Lowry's defense attorneys noted.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Denise Wolf, who asked for a prison sentence, said Lowry was "equally culpable as his codefendants" in the ticket-fixing scheme. She contended Lowry was not as cooperative with investigators as the defense says.
Stengel previously sentenced former Traffic Court judges Thomasine Tynes, 71, to two years in prison and Robert Mulgrew, 57, to a year and a half in prison. They were also convicted of lying to the grand jury. Former Traffic Court Judge Willie Singletary, 33, convicted of lying to the FBI, awaits sentencing.
Stengel said the prison sentences were needed to reflect the seriousness of the offenses, to promote respect for the law, and to deter other public officials who are likely to engage in corruption.
In the trial that ended in July, the jury acquitted three other defendants - former Traffic Court Judge Michael Sullivan; Chester County Judge Mark Bruno, who served a few times a year as a substitute Traffic Court judge; and Chinatown businessman Robert Moy - of all fraud charges. They did not face perjury charges.
After today's hearing, DeStefano called Lowry's sentence "harsh."
A nephew of Lowry's, 35, who did not want to give his name, contended the message sent is for people not to talk to a grand jury. "You go to a grand jury and tell the truth," he said of his uncle, "and something like this happens to you. I don't understand it."
Referring to Sullivan, who did not testify before the grand jury, the nephew added: "And you have somebody who pleads the Fifth. It's not fair."
Lowry is to report to federal prison March 16.