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Another Traffic Court judge goes to jail

Willie Singletary, a South Philly pastor, fails to preach his way out of hard time.

Willie Singletary: Pastor fails to preach his way out of hard time. (ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)
Willie Singletary: Pastor fails to preach his way out of hard time. (ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)Read more / File Photograph

AN IMPASSIONED plea for clemency from a preacher who is a former Philadelphia Traffic Court judge garnered a lot of "amens" but failed to move a federal judge Thursday.

U.S. District Judge Lawrence Stengel sentenced Willie Singletary to 20 months in prison for his role in a "ticket-fixing" scandal.

"I have made some foolish and stupid decisions," Singletary said. "But all I want to do is help people."

More than 80 supporters packed the courtroom. Most hailed from Consolation Baptist Church in South Philly, where Singletary is the pastor.

"My gift took me to a place where my character could not keep me," Singletary, 34, told the judge.

Singletary was 26 when he won election to Traffic Court. His defense lawyer, William J. Brennan, suggested that his actions could be chalked up to forgivable naivete.

Singletary claimed to not know the difference between "preferential treatment" and "consideration," which led him to inadvertently lie to federal investigators, he said.

"Preferential treatment to me is taking money," Singletary told Stengel. "If they had asked me if I 'offered consideration,' I would have said, 'Yes.' "

The courtroom at times resembled a church, with several people proclaiming "amen" and "yes." One man shouted: "Hey, judge, we need him, your honor!"

Singletary's mother, Joanne All, testified that he was raised by his grandparents due to her addiction issues. Singletary cried while his mother spoke.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Denise Wolf praised the "beautiful and loving community" that turned out to support the pastor, but said, "When people commit a crime, there are consequences."

Wolf said that Singletary's lying was not a one-time incident but "a mode of operation."

He was forced to resign in March 2012 when a woman employee accused him of showing her a picture of his erect penis.

He also was disciplined for asking bikers for campaign donations before he was elected, saying that they would need his "hook-up" in Traffic Court.

Stengel pointed out that Singletary had a poor driving record yet had sought office in Traffic Court.

"How someone so obviously unqualified for this office can be elected has more to do with the diseased political system that puts people like this up for office than it does about Mr. Singletary himself," the judge said, adding that Singletary was "a classic scofflaw" who arrived to the job with an active bench warrant and owing thousands of dollars in fines.

Singletary's sentence is to begin by May 26.