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Ex-Traffic Court judge pleads guilty in tax case

Michael Sullivan admitted to a misdemeanor charge of failing to report and pay payroll taxes for his family’s Fireside Tavern.

Michael Sullivan.

FORMER PHILADELPHIA Traffic Court Judge Michael Sullivan pleaded guilty yesterday in a misdemeanor case involving payroll taxes at his family's South Philly bar.

Sullivan, 51, had been the only full-time Traffic Court judge who was acquitted of all charges in a high-profile trial last year in which evidence showed Traffic Court as a hotbed of ticket-fixing - in which judges gave preferential treatment to ticketholders with connections.

He was slapped with the tax case this past September.

Henry Hockeimer, one of Sullivan's criminal defense attorneys, who also represented him in the ticket-fixing trial, has said Sullivan would plead guilty in the tax case for his family's sake.

After yesterday's hearing, Hockeimer reiterated those sentiments: "Mr. Sullivan has taken full responsibility for this misdemeanor plea. He's done so, so that other family members would not be charged with tax crimes."

Hockeimer added: "It's unfortunate that prosecutorial priorities would include a matter like this."

Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul Gray, when asked afterward if Sullivan was charged in the tax case because his office had failed to obtain a guilty verdict against him in the ticket-fixing case, said: "This tax case is an entirely different matter."

Sullivan, who is not in custody, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of failing to report and pay payroll taxes. He faces a maximum possible sentence of one year in federal prison and a maximum $25,000 fine when he is sentenced March 2 by U.S. District Judge Eduardo Robreno.

Prosecutors have said Sullivan was one of the owners of his family's Fireside Tavern, on Marshall Street near Oregon Avenue.

The charging document says Sullivan failed to file quarterly tax returns showing the number of workers employed at the Fireside from 2006 to 2013. While the Fireside reported to the IRS that it had one employee, it had more employees and paid them under the table.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Barrett, chief of his office's Public Corruption Unit, has said the Fireside's failure to report payroll taxes for other employees from 2006 to 2013 amounted to a tax loss to the IRS of $48,000.

Sullivan was initially expected to plead guilty Oct. 20.

But on that date, Robreno continued the hearing because he wanted more information on the case and Gray, the assigned prosecutor, was busy at a trial.

At yesterday's hearing, the judge asked Gray if the facts of Sullivan's tax case would constitute a felony violation. Gray agreed that was the case.

The judge then asked if it were a prosecutorial decision to charge the crime as a misdemeanor, not a felony. Gray agreed.

Asked why, Gray said prosecutors believe the sentencing-guideline range of 10 to 12 months in prison would provide sufficient punishment for Sullivan and would deter others.

Asked afterward what sentence prosecutors will seek for Sullivan at his March hearing, Gray declined comment. Hockeimer also declined to say what sentence the defense will seek.

Another attorney for Sullivan, who represents him in a disciplinary matter, said yesterday that it appears Sullivan was charged in the tax case because he was acquitted in the ticket-fixing case.

"As a bystander, it did seem like it was a bit motivated by sour grapes over the loss on the other case," attorney Samuel Stretton said, adding he thought the tax charge "was over the top."

Sullivan had a Nov. 6 trial before the Court of Judicial Discipline in which he faced disciplinary charges filed against him by the Judicial Conduct Board of Pennsylvania. The charges - which are not criminal - accuse him of giving preferential treatment to people in Traffic Court while he was a judge.

Stretton said the Court of Judicial Discipline has not yet ruled on the charges at the trial. Sullivan's pension is at stake, he said.

In the Traffic Court ticket-fixing trial, a jury last year acquitted all seven defendants of fraud charges, but convicted four former Traffic Court judges - Willie Singletary, Robert Mulgrew, Michael Lowry and Thomasine Tynes - of lying to a grand jury or the FBI.

Sullivan had not testified before a grand jury nor given a statement to the FBI and thus, had not been charged with perjury.

Singletary, 34; Mulgrew, 58; Lowry, 59; and Tynes, 72, are in federal prison after having been sentenced to terms ranging from a year and a half to two years behind bars.

On Twitter: @julieshawphilly